THE TRAGIC STORY OF THE WOMAN WHO MADE MOTOWN
BY MICHAEL MUSTO, VILLAGE VOICE
A new book called Mary Wells, The Tumultuous Life of Motown's First Superstar" details the ups
and downs of the sultry singer of "My Guy," "Two Lovers," and "You Beat Me To The Punch" as
she went from fame back to obscurity.
Mary was Motown's first solo superstar, soaring on Smokey Robinson-penned tunes and helping
build the label that in turn had nurtured her to stardom.
Her voice put the oomph into Motown's wowness.
The woman was huge.
But she was hardly remunerated as such, and was horrified to realize that.
As described by author Peter Benjaminson, the fame-drenched star re-examined the details of her
contract--which she'd signed before she was 21--and learned that she was being charged for studio
sessions, publicity, travel, phone expenses, costumes, and other costs.
All of that was being deducted from her royalties!
She also felt the label was under-reporting how many records she'd sold, so she was getting the
short shrift in terms of gross potential.
The result had her making a pretty paltry amount for someone who was one of the top singing stars
in the world and who'd toured with the Beatles.
So, all fired up with frustration and rage, the talented young thing left Motown.
With blinders on, she supposedly turned down an offer to co-own the company and also refused to
try and re-negotiate her terms.
She simply bolted.
And that was just the beginning of her decline.
Mary couldn't catch much of a break after that, and years later, when Motown had that dazzling 25th
anniversary TV special, she was given a fleeting 30-second cameo.
She died of cancer in 1992.
And I'm sure all this will be in Motown: The Musical!