Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown’s First Superstar

Author Peter Benjaminson will present his new book, the first biography ever on Motown superstar Mary Wells at the Book Beat, 26010 Greenfield in Oak Park, on Thursday, January 24th at 7 PM. Please call 248-968-1190 for more information or to reserve a book. Anyone with an interest in the history of Detroit music should check this book out. They will be well rewarded.

“There is plenty about hanky-panky and substance abuse in “Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown’s First Superstar”; apparently Wells never ran into a man or a narcotic (or a highball or a cigarette) she didn’t like. And though Peter Benjaminson reports on all that, he also tells us where the music came from and how it went away, doing justice to his fallen angel of a pop star.”  - Wall Street Journal; There was Something About Mary

” Twenty years after her death, singer Mary Wells’s unmistakable voice still has the power to haunt and heal her fans. Just listen to her classic “Two Lovers.” In “Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown’s First Superstar (Chicago Review Press,$26.95), author Peter Benjaminson chisels away at the walls that the singer built up over her career to protect herself and preserve her image.”  – Essence Magazine

“Until now, Wells’ story has been told in bits and pieces in various books (including, full disclosure, my 1998 book “Women of Motown”) and in a 2011 episode of TV One’s celebrity biography show “Unsung,” but Benjaminson’s biography is the first full-length book about Motown’s early superstar, the female singer who, had she stayed at Motown, arguably might have “been” Diana Ross.”  – Susan Whitall, “The Rise and Fall of Mary Wells”, Detroit News

“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.” — Village Voice

“I thought I knew all there was to know about MARY WELLS. I was wrong. Here, PETER BENJAMINSON tells Mary’s story with great love and compassion in a way that informs even the so-called experts. I love Peter’s work, and am happy to see Mary Wells finally be given the recognition she so deserves.” — J. RANDY TARABORRELLI, author of “MICHAEL JACKSON,” “AFTER CAMELOT,” and “THE SECRET LIFE OF MARILYN MONROE.”

In 1960, a 17-year-old Mary Wells approached Motown founder Berry Gordy at a Detroit nightclub with an original song and enough nerve to sing it for him on the spot. In the years that followed, Wells would become Motown’s first solo superstar. While the Supremes were still picking up jobs as backup singers, Wells’s signature hit, “My Guy,” was topping the charts — even briefly surpassing the Beatles — becoming one of the first Motown songs to cross the color line into mainstream popularity.

However, the same spirited self-determination that brought Wells fame would also inspire her to leave Motown at age 21 — and spend the rest of her life fighting to get back to the top.

In the first book ever written about Motown’s original superstar, “Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown’s First Superstar” (Chicago Review Press, November, 2012) author Peter Benjaminson delves deeply into her rapid rise and long fall as a recording artist, her spectacular romantic and family life and her Motown hits that charmed the world. Based in part on four hours of previously unreleased deathbed interviews with Wells, “Mary Wells” reveals the incredibly turbulent life of one of the most important figures in early Motown history.

Growing up in a rundown Detroit neighborhood, Wells went on to make a string of hit singles under Motown — including “Two Lovers” and the Grammy-nominated “You Beat Me to the Punch” —composed mainly by Smokey Robinson. At the peak of her fame, she recorded a duet with rising star Marvin Gaye and toured in the UK with the Beatles,who became captivated by the soulful young singer. After merely fours years, however, Wells had come to consider herself hard-done by the company that had plucked her from obscurity. In a move that would reveal for the first time that all was not sweetness and light at America’s first major black-owned music company, Wells broke her contract and left Motown.

Even without Motown backing her, Wells had a ferocious belief in her own talent, and she never stopped performing. “Mary Wells” tells of her life on the road as “Queen of the Oldies,” etching out a living on her voice alone,rather than on records or royalties. Having interviewed Wells’s friends, lovers and husbands, author Peter Benjaminson also shares the never-before-revealed details of  the violence in her life, her abuse of drugs and alcohol and her romantic entanglements with several singers and songwriters, including two of the well-known Womack brothers. At the end of her life, Wells fell victim to throat cancer and spent her last few months testifying before the US Congress about the need to continue funding anti-cancer research.

Mary Wells helped define Motown’s emerging sound in the 1960s, preparing the stage for many female Motown vocalists. In “Mary Wells,” the first complete account of the singer’s life, Peter Benjaminson reintroduces Wells in all her glamour.

Complete with never-before-revealed details about the sex, violence, and drugs in her life, this biography reveals the incredibly turbulent life of Motown artist Mary Wells. Based in part on four hours of previously unreleased and unpublicized deathbed interviews with Wells, this account delves deeply into her rapid rise and long fall as a recording artist, her spectacular romantic and family life, the violent incidents in which she was a participant, and her abuse of drugs. From tumultuous affairs, including one with R&B superstar Jackie Wilson, to a courageous battle with throat cancer that climaxed in her gutsiest performance, this history draws upon years of interviews with Wells’s friends, lovers, and husband to tell the whole story of a woman whose songs crossed the color line and whose voice captivated the Beatles.

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