- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Before the December debut of “Dreamgirls,” the hit movie musical loosely based on Diana Ross and the Supremes, the studio gave former Supreme Mary Wilson (now in her early 60s) a private screening.

“I’m sitting in this theater alone, just me and my publicist,” she recalls, “and I did the same thing I did when I saw the play many years ago: I sat there and I just cried.”

Parts of the film hit really close to home, she says — particularly when the Effie character (brilliantly portrayed by Jennifer Hudson and presumed to represent the Supremes’ Florence Ballard) is ousted from the group.

“That was very, very similar to our story,” she explains.

When asked to point out where the script differed from real events, Miss Wilson says, “That would take a while.”

In real life, the Supremes started off as a Detroit-based quartet called the Primettes, and became the popularly known trio — Miss Ross, Miss Wilson and Miss Ballard — shortly after signing with Motown in 1961. Berry Gordy and his artist development team coached the women to No. 1 hit single after No. 1 hit single (beginning with 1964’s “Where Did Our Love Go”), to massive crossover success and, eventually, international stardom.

In 1967, Mr. Gordy renamed the group Diana Ross and the Supremes and replaced Miss Ballard with Cindy Birdsong. Just three years later, Miss Ross embarked on a solo career, leaving Jean Terrell as her stand-in.

The Supremes did their best to keep up momentum during the continued line-up changes that followed Miss Ross’ departure. They managed to produce two more No. 1 singles before fizzling out in 1977, a year after Miss Ballard died in poverty.

For Miss Wilson, the lone Supreme to last from inception to demise, looking back at those final years of hardship and her former colleague’s premature passing are what made watching “Dreamgirls” such an emotional experience.

Despite her wounds, though, the tenured singer has learned to take what life throws at her and give it a positive spin. A mother of three (one deceased) and grandmother of eight, she has sung her way to solo success, and has also honed a powerful voice in other media beyond music; she’s authored two popular autobiographies, led a successful “Dare to Dream” lecture tour, championed numerous charities and even ventured into the theatrical world.

All of these doors opened when she first stepped out on her own after spending so many years in the safety and security of a world-renowned girl group.

That moment was “scary,” she says, “but it’s something I do recommend for people to do. When you realize that a certain time is over, you’ve gotta face that unknown and jump out there on faith.”

For her current tour, she’s hoping audiences will appreciate her habit of embracing change. Rather than belting out Supremes hits, she’ll be delivering standards and ballads such as “What a Wonderful World” and “Girl from Ipanema” in her sultry alto.

“I’m just loving standing still in one spot and just singing the lyrics,” she says.

She begins a four-day stint at Blues Alley (www.bluesalley .com) tonight at 8.

See Si*Se

New York City’s Si*Se is a case study in how perseverance pays off in the music industry. After introducing their lush, Latin-infused electronic tunes via their 2003 self-titled Luaka Bop disc and heading off to tour with label founder David Byrne, they lost their distribution deal.

“We had a lot of momentum behind us,” says founding member DJ U.F.LOW (Cliff Cristofaro). But, he adds, music “may not go as smoothly as you’d anticipate.”

Staring musical oblivion in the face, the group members turned the other way and took their sexy grooves on the road in a determined attempt to change fate through self-promotion.

Fortunately, start-up label Fuerte dug their vibe. In 2005, the group signed on with the nascent imprint and released its second album and the label’s first, “More Shine.”

The disc shows beatmaker-keyboardist U.F.LOW, vocalist Carol C ( a Latin Sade with stunning good looks), and four back-up musicians hitting their bilingual stride in tracks like the spicy instrumental “A La Bahia” and the Thievery Corporation-inspired “Sometimes.”

“More Shine” has given the group’s resume just that — with recent TV licensing deals, a track on Putumayo’s “Latin Lounge” compilation and an invitation to perform at the 2007 Langerado Music Festival in south Florida among the highlights.

The outfit is especially thrilled to have a steady and loyal fan base. “Even when it’s 10-below out, when you think, ‘Who in their right mind would go out tonight?’ people come out,” U.F.LOW says.

Si*Se is hoping D.C. represents on Saturday at 9 p.m., when they rock the Black Cat (www.blackcatdc.com). They’ll be selling a previously unreleased disc of “More Shine” remixes at the show (unavailable elsewhere).

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