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Mary Wilson at Blues Alley

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • February 23, 2008

mary_wilson.jpgOnce you've been a Supreme, where do you go from there? Mary Wilson, a founding member of the Motown supergroup, has evolved into everything from ambassador (one of those cultural ones) to actress, author, grandmother (eight times over) and, most recently, political activist, stumping the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton. And on Thursday night at Blues Alley, she put on a show that, she promised, would "tell my life story through songs."

It's a great story, and the show -- titled "Mary Wilson Up Close" -- made for a warm, relentlessly optimistic evening, with the singer in fine voice and clearly having a good time. And yet, as a personal statement, it felt a little cliched, especially from someone who's lived so fully. Opening with that old Shirley Horn standby "Here's to Life," Wilson churned through familiar love songs, ballads and standards from the past half-century, digging into everything from Nat King Cole's "Smile" to Norah Jones' "Don't Know Why."

Things got a bit overcooked at times, and there was a wearying amount of smiling through the tears. But when it worked, it worked beautifully: A heartfelt cover of "I Am Changing," dedicated to her friend and Supremes colleague, the late Florence Ballard, was one of the high points of the set.

Even if the glitz tended to outweigh the depth, Wilson's still a treat to listen to. Looking at least a decade younger than her 63 years, she exudes capital-G glamour from every pore, and her deep, rich voice can reduce a room to adoring silence in a matter of seconds. Her five-piece backup band never really shone, unfortunately -- assembled from bits and pieces, they were playing together for the first time -- but Wilson revved things up with Jorge Ben's "Mas Que Nada" and Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind." Still, it was only when she finally broke out the old Supremes hit "My World Is Empty Without You" that Wilson seemed completely at home -- back where the story of her professional life began.

Posted on Sunday, February 24, 2008 at 11:16AM by Registered CommenterStephen Brookes | CommentsPost a Comment

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