Nearly a half-century after American female singing group, THE SUPREMES, conquered the airwaves and rose to international stardom, the AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSEUM IN PHILADELPHIA (AAMP), in cooperation with BLAIR-MURRAH EXHIBITIONS, will celebrate the group’s historic imprint on American culture, women’s history, music, and fashion through a ground-breaking new exhibit, ”COME SEE ABOUT ME: THE MARY WILSON SUPREMES COLLECTION“ which will feature over thirty of the Supremes’ most glamorous gowns.
“COME SEE ABOUT ME: THE MARY WILSON SUPREMES COLLECTION“ is a showcase conceived by MARY WILSON, an original member of the Supremes. In addition to the group’s stunning gowns, “Come See About Me” will feature rarely seen video footage, gold records and album covers, historic photographs, and contemporary magazine and news articles. Wilson’s determined journey towards self-actualization—a story of universal relevance for women of all ages and backgrounds—will be a key theme of the presentation as well.
While selected Supremes’ gowns have been presented before in other venues and group-themes exhibitions—most recently in Europe—this is the first time they will be displayed as a whole and as part of a comprehensive exhibition that features themes that go beyond fashion and music.
THE SUPREMES (later known as DIANA ROSS AND THE SUPREMES) was an American female singing group and the premier act of Motown Records during the 1960s. They were the most commercially successful of Motown’s acts and are, to date, America’s most successful vocal group with twelve number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100. Most of these hits were written and produced by Motown’s main songwriting and production team. At their peak in the mid-1960s, the Supremes rivaled the Beatles in worldwide popularity.
The role of THE SUPREMES as trailblazers in the annals of American history (musical, civil rights or otherwise) cannot be underestimated. Their fame as a “cross-over group” was achieved as the CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT of the 1960s and 1970s reached international prominence. Their success made it possible for future African American R&B and soul musicians to find mainstream success. Before the Supremes rose to fame, African American female groups had not been given the opportunity to consistently shine in the mainstream spotlight.
Founding members FLORENCE BALLARD, MARY WILSON, DIANA ROSS, and BETTY MCGLOWN, all from the BREWSTER-DOUGLASS PUBLIC HOUSING PROJECT in Detroit, formed THE PRIMETTES as the sister act to THE PRIMES (with PAUL WILLIAMS and EDDIE KENDRICKS, who went on to form the Temptations). BARBARA MARTIN replaced McGlown in 1960, and the group signed with Motown the following year as THE SUPREMES. Martin left the act in early 1962, and Ross, Ballard, and Wilson carried on as a trio.
During the mid-1960s, the Supremes achieved mainstream success with Ross as lead singer. In 1967, Motown president BERRY GORDY renamed the group DIANA ROSS & THE SUPREMES, and replaced Ballard with CINDY BIRDSONG. Ross left to pursue a solo career in 1970 and was replaced by JEAN TERRELL, at which point the group’s name reverted to the Supremes. After 1972, the lineup changed more frequently; LYNDA LAURENCE, SCHERRIE PAYNE, and SUSAYE GREENE all became members of the group during the mid-1970s. The Supremes disbanded in 1977 after an 18-year run.
AAMP PRESIDENT and CEO ROMONA RISCOE BENSON states, “The Supremes’ legacy changed the face of music and we are thrilled to host Mary Wilson’s exhibit, including the many costumes she has preserved over the years. The Supremes and their music are a significant part of American history and we are proud to partner with PNC to present it to Philadelphia’s residents and visitors.
We look forward to offering a wide variety of special events, educational programs and fun-filled activities relating to the exhibit that everyone will enjoy.”
DR. MARK ANTHONY NEAL, noted expert in popular culture including music, and professor of BLACK POPULAR CULTURE in the DEPARTMENT OF AFRICAN AND AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES AT DUKE UNIVERSITY, is the guest curator for the exhibit. Dr. Neal, author of five books, is a frequent commentator for NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO and contributes to a number of online media outlets, among them Huffington Post Black Voices, Ebony.com and SeeingBlack.com.
“The gowns tell the story of an important era: the Supremes and the society that the Supremes helped to transform. The Supremes embodied style, class and integrity at a time when those were some of the only things that African-Americans could legitimately claim in American society. The grace and confidence that the Supremes personified would inspire a nation and continue to serve as a shining example of modern Black womanhood—American womanhood,” says Dr. Neal.
“Come See About Me: The Mary Wilson Supremes Legacy Collection“ was made possible by a PNC ARTS ALIVE grant. In 2012, and one of only twenty-five arts organizations in the Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey region selected to receive a grant for “bold thinking around increasing arts access and engagement”.
Founded in 1976 in celebration of the nation’s Bicentennial, the AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSEUM IN PHILADELPHIA (AAMP) is the first institution funded and built by a major municipality to preserve, interpret and exhibit the heritage of African Americans. Throughout its evolution, the museum has objectively interpreted and presented the achievements and aspirations of African Americans from pre-colonial times to the current day. AAMP collects and preserves art and artifacts and, through exhibitions and programs, interprets the history and stories of African Americans and those of the African Diaspora. The museum enriches the lives of all visitors, especially children and youth, through experiences that enlighten them culturally and intellectually; and is a gathering place, a forum for broader community engagement, and a partner for collaborations with other historical and cultural institutions.
PNC ARTS ALIVE is a five-year, $5 million initiative from the PNC FOUNDATION, which receives its principal funding from THE PNC FINANCIAL SERVICES GROUP, INC. (NYSE: PNC). The goal of PNC ARTS ALIVE is to help area residents gain access to the arts and to help arts organizations expand and engage audiences.
“The PNC Foundation has a long history of providing grants to non-profit organizations that strengthen and enrich the lives of our neighbors,” said BILL MILLS, REGIONAL PRESIDENT OF PNC FOR PHILADELPHIA AND SOUTHERN NEW JERSEY. “We understand the valuable return that investing in the arts can deliver. Today more than ever, the businesses we attract, the jobs we create and the visitors who extend their stay are drawn by what the Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey region has to offer.”
“Come See About Me: The Mary Wilson Supremes Legacy Collection“ officially opens January 25, 2013 and will run through the end of July 2013. The exhibit will be supported by extensive programming including concerts, celebrity appearances, fashion shows, and various other associated activities. For more information about the “Come See About Me” exhibit (and updates on special programs, activities, and schedules), please visit http://aampmuseum.org/. For more information on PNC ARTS ALIVE and the grant recipients, visit www.PNCARTSALIVE.com