Three Kids from Detroit
Mary Wilson was born on March 6, 1944, in Greenville, Mississippi. Her mother, Johnnie Mae, worked steadily when Mary was a baby, but her father, Sam Wilson, had difficulty holding a steady job. The Wilsons moved from Mississippi to St. Louis, Missouri, and then moved again to Chicago, Illinois. In Chicago, Sam Wilson became involved with gambling and did not pay much attention to his family. By that time, Mary had a younger brother, Roosevelt, and Johnnie Mae was forced to ask her family for help.
When Mary was three years old, she went to live with her mother's sister, I. V., and I. V.’s husband, John Pippin. The Pippins lived in a small house in Dearborn, Michigan. Mary was still very young when she went to live with her aunt and uncle, and she grew to think of them as her real parents; soon she called them Mom and Daddy. Mary's brother, Roosevelt, and later her baby sister, Cathy, lived with Johnnie Mae and Mary's grandmother back in Greenville.
Mary's aunt I. V. was very interested in fashion and beauty. Mary grew up sharing these interests and was always very well dressed. John Pippin worked two jobs to support his family, but in his spare time he enjoyed listening to popular singers. He listened to jazz and R & B vocalists like Nat “King” Cole, Sarah Vaughan, LaVern Baker, and Brook Benton. Mary soon grew to love music, too.
When Mary was six years old, her mother, brother, and sister came to live with the Pippins in Dearborn. By this time, I. V. and John had a daughter of their own, Pat. Though it was difficult for Mary to understand at first, she soon learned that Johnnie Mae, not I. V., was her real mother. Though the family got along well, the house was too small for seven people. Johnnie Mae took her three children and moved to the Brewster Projects in nearby Detroit.
Mary's love of music continued, and sometimes she found the courage to sing in public. When she was in junior high school, Mary entered a school talent contest. Backstage, she met the girl who was to become her best friend, Florence Ballard, who was nicknamed Flo. The girls connected instantly. Mary recalled, “We promised each other that if either of us were ever asked to join a singing group, she would call the other. There was a bond between us. We could not have known that it would last a lifetime.”