*The tale of Mary Wells is described by some as one of triumph, heartbreak and betrayal. It’s like a dramatic roller coaster ride filled with plot twists the likes of which would make Shakespeare wish he had written it.
Unfortunately her pain was not spawned from the ink of a pen and scribbled upon a page. She was a real life shooting star whose arc was stymied by circumstances and the clandestine activities of those working counter to her best interests.
TV One’s “Unsung” has stepped up to the plate to help tell the tale of Mary Well’s rise from the slums of Detroit to her last days on Earth. See it tonight, Monday, Aug 15 at 10pm Eastern.
Our Lee Bailey was able to talk to Wells’ oldest daughter, Stacey Noel Womack aka Noel Wells, about her mother’s TV One special.
“I don’t know if you know it or not, but my father is Cecil Womack. and my legal name is Stacey Noel Womack,” explained Noel. “But my brothers and I go with Wells when we’re doing entertainment related stuff.”
“I’m very eager to see how things turn out,” said Wells, who explained that she initially couldn’t watch the rough draft due to the emotional significance there in. “I’ll be watching along with everyone else. I think it’s going to be emotional for my family because my mother is no longer here. She had a great life in the industry and she left us way too soon. My mother was 49 years old when she passed away. We were very close to her and she kept us together. Not having her around was like not having your leg. My older brother and I were the guardians for the younger siblings. It was a challenging time when we lost her. This is all very emotional and I’m just glad TV One’s “Unsung” has decided to do a biography on my mother.”
Mary Wells was the very first female act on the Motown label and it seemed as though she was destined for stardom the likes of which no African American woman could fathom at the time. But the record industry is a treacherous creature. Noel says it’s about time someone gave her late mother some props.
“Its very over due,” said Wells. “I think my mother helped build that label Motown and I think she deserves her props. I think that everyone is here for a purpose. I think my mother’s purpose was to be an inspiration and to show that you can live out your dreams, you can come from the bottom up. My mother started out with nothing. She was struggling living in a very poor area of Detroit, Michigan and all she knew how to do was sing. She was a very bright young lady, but that’s all she knew to do. The day she lost her voice she told me ‘I don’t really know what I’m going to do if I can never sing again. This is the only real trade I know.’ I think that it really hurt her spirits. Part of her life was already gone.”
Not only will this upcoming episode of “Unsung” be an emotional and gut-wrenching experience for the Wells family, but to many of Wells’ fans as well. She is described as a sweet and giving individual who, unlike most celebrities, would engage strangers in conversations, display genuine warmth, kindness and concern for their well being. Mary’s life seemed so tragic that it’s unfair. We’re taught as children that bad things aren’t supposed to happen to good people. But, as good as Wells was to people life wasn’t as kind to her. She may have felt the same way. Noel Wells tells EURweb.com that she even saved her mother’s life once after a suicide attempt.
“I was young during that time, very young. About 6 years old,” Noel explained. “I opened the door and my mother was just lying there. She was lying in the bed, phone was off the hook. I didn’t know what had happened. The more I pushed, she just wasn’t moving and she looked like she had been crying. I was just devastated. I never knew what had happened and why until many years later. I went to the neighbors’ house to get help and they called the paramedic.”
“I never thought about it again as a child, and didn’t think about it much as an adult. It all came back to me at the interview (for ‘Unsung’) and I can remember (it) like it was yesterday.”
Mary Wells is best known for hit records such as “Two Lovers,” “You Beat Me to the Punch”, “My Guy”, “Dear Lover” and “The One Who Really Loves You” which were all on Motown. Eventually though, Wells would request to be let out of her Motown contract. She was allegedly upset with the label because money from her hit single “My Guy” was being used to promote the Supremes. Then 20th Century Fox stepped into the fray and offered Wells the sky and more.
“When my mother left Motown people thought that it might not have been a smart move,” Noel told Lee Bailey. “My take on it is my mother, again, was a very courageous person and she took a courageous move with her career, rolling the dice. I admire her for that. If someone offers you something greater and you have the opportunity for that you should take it. If you feel that you’re not being properly compensated why would you stay on the job? No matter who was influencing her, I know they say her husband at the time (Herman Griffin) was influencing her but you still have to make the final decision by yourself.”
As the story goes, upon realizing Mary Wells was serious about leaving Motown Berry Gordy was willing to renegotiate her contract, but it was too late. 20th Century Fox had a $200,000 advance on the table and the promise of something even greater. But the second phase of Wells’ career didn’t take off amid rumors of tampering by Motown, which is said to have threatened any radio station that played Wells’ 20th Century Fox recordings.
“At 20th Century Fox they were offering her the chance to be a movie star,” Noel Wells explained. “Back in the 60s that was a big deal. For someone young to be offered these types of opportunities I would say go for it. What I feel happened was Motown had invested so much time, energy and money in her that they were bitter. I feel they played some role in (sabotaging) it (her career at 20th Century Fox). She was the first female act on (Motown). She made a lot of hit records in the beginning.”
“There were a lot of weird things happening at labels back in the day,” she continued. “You don’t see these things happening too much in this day and age, but back then people did what they had to do in order to get their point across. She was never bitter. We never heard her say or mention anything bad about the label in our household when we were growing up.”
In the summer of 1992 Mary Wells died at the age of 49 from throat cancer. She was laid to rest in Glendale’s Forest Lawn Memorial Park. Since their mother’s passing Noel and her siblings Cecil Jr, Harry and Sugar, have been hard at work maintaining the legacy of their mother and building upon the musical foundation she left behind as well. Though she is known by those close to her as a chain smoker and former heroin abuser, Wells was not a woman that was defined by her flaws but by her big heart and her love for music.
“My family and I are working on my mother’s biography, Noel explained. “She wouldn’t want us to hold anything back. That’s one of the big projects we’re working on. This has been something we’ve been working on for many years now. This is going to be a very straight forward book. We’re also working on establishing the Mary Wells Foundation and a tribute album as well. We all have certain things that we deal with throughout life. But in the end my mother got it. She wasn’t drinking, she wasn’t smoking, she finally got it.”
TV One’s “Unsung” episode on the late Mary Wells will air tonight at 10pm Eastern / 7pm Pacific (it will repeat at 1am Eastern / 10pm Pacific). Trust us, you’re not going to want to miss this one.