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Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown's First Superstar Hardcover – November 1, 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 63 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Before Diana Ross defined the image of the Motown female singer, Mary Wells put her stamp on that legendary record company. As a Detroit teenager, she was looking for an opportunity to write songs, particularly for her idol, Jackie Wilson, when an impromptu audition led Barry Gordy to sign her as a vocalist. The hit singles You Beat Me to the Punch and My Guy launched her into stardom. She went on the road with the Motown Revue, coping with little pay, harsh travel conditions, segregated or no hotel accommodations, and the massive insecurities of a young woman looking for a man to take care of her. Benjaminson details Wells’ relationship with Smoky Robinson and the songwriting team Holland, Dozier, and Holland. Wells eventually broke with Motown, charging Gordy with gross underpayment, and struggled for years, never again quite reaching the top but still adored by fans black and white. Through failed romances and marriages, suicide attempts, alcohol and drug abuse, and ultimately cancer, Wells maintained her talent and tenacity until her death, at 49. --Vanessa Bush


"In the end, Wells' story is the stuff of great art. Operas like "La Traviata" and "La Bohème" are centered on such characters; Edgar Allan Poe said that the death of a beautiful woman is the most poetical topic in the world. When you finish this book, you will mourn Mary Wells, sure, and be grateful for the music she left. But don't be surprised if you find that, like John, Paul, George and Ringo, you are more than a little in love with her as well."
-Wall Street Journal


"Peter Benjaminson pays tribute to the remarkable life of Mary Wells through a fascinating biography. His relentless research has resulted in not only a riveting tale of Wells's many personal battles but also a gripping snapshot of the music industry in which she worked. Motown's first superstar is given top-of-the-charts treatment in this terrific book."  —Gerald Posner, author, Motown, Why America Slept, and Case Closed

"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, Michael Jackson, After Camelot, and The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe

"Peter Benjaminson does an admirable job with Mary Wells, presenting thoroughly researched scholarship, but always going back to reminding the reader of the soaring voice, and wide heart, of Motown's first superstar."  —Charles R. Cross, author, Heavier than Heaven and Room Full of Mirrors

"Mary Wells has finally found 'My Guy'—and it is her biographer Peter Benjaminson. This is a match made in music heaven."  —Al Abrams, author, Hype & Soul: Behind the Scenes at Motown

"Peter exposes the raw truth contained in never-before-released audio interviews with Mary as she lay on her deathbed. This fascinating story hits bookstores everywhere on November 1." — Sister 2 Sister magazine

"Benjaminson (The Lost Supreme) delivers another excellent and fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the artists who made Motown Records a massive success in the 1960s." — Publishers Weekly

"A fascinating narrative of the life of a popular music icon." —Library Journal

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press; 1 edition (November 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1569762481
  • ISBN-13: 978-1569762486
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #133,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have been a long time fan of Mary Wells. I will say this book showed me a whole new side to her that only her closest friends and family would know. That said it does not diminish my love for her music or Mary herself. This book will open your eyes about her poor choices both in her personal life and her career. Being the constant hitmaker she was(her knick name was Miss Hitmaker) she was a major player in the early days of making Motown a powerful record label.You could actually say that Motown was the label that Mary Built.This book takes you through her life from beginning to end and is very informatve. From her affairs with Carl Davis and Jackie Wilson to her disasterous marriage to Herman Griffin and her longest marriage to Cecil Womack(11 years).Mary could also be a very jealous person when it came to the men in her life and she could be a handfull. Mary tried suicide twice and survived. This book will show how her personal life may have been rocky but when Mary got on stage and did her shows she was a pro. I was able to see her once in concert at the Park West in Chicago in the early 80's. She gave one heck of a performance. Read the book and you will have a better understanding of how and why things went from bad to good and back to bad for her. I feel Mary was her own worst enemy. To the author Peter Benjaminson I say thank you for such a wonderful book on "The Queen Of Motown". You didn't make her out to be something she wasn't, you showed us that she was human like the rest of us. She made a lot of bad choices in her life but who hasn't? We all have. She just made more of them and happened to be a famous singer.
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By Hugh on October 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I recently read this author's previous book, "The Lost Supreme," about Florence Ballard, and was extremely impressed by the way he brought her to life. But Peter Benjaminson's newest book, which is about the great Mary Wells, is even better. Although Ms. Wells' music, including the lyrics to her most popular songs, has been running through my head for years, I knew very little about her life and wasn't particularly interested in it. Now, after reading this book about her, I understand why Mary Wells sang the way she did: her life was the source of the joy and the anguish which appeared in her music. Because so many other musicians sing the way they do for reasons related to their lives, this book, by telling me Mary Wells' story, also has enriched my understanding of the creative process as it applies to music.
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Format: Hardcover
I have virtually every available book that has ever been published on Motown and their great artists. Each has been read cover-to-cover. The new biography on Mary Wells is outstanding and superb. A lot of research and interviews have been put into this. Mr. Benjaminson did not let me down. He is one of two leading experts in the USA of Motown and its rich history. All other major artists have been covered by him as well as other writers so this completes the cycle. The information contained in the book covers her great but short lived career. Covered are her childhood; signing and Motown legacy; and her subsequent recording history at five lesser known labels including 20th Century Fox, Atco, Jubilee, Reprise, and Epic and several other labels. Intricate details are provided from very reliable sources associated with these labels. Her many love affairs are revealed as well as her ongoing struggle with drugs. Her death is covered in great detail and the book concludes with the in-depth details of her funeral. The book, more than 300 pages long, is virtually an encyclopedia of her career. The appendix includes a US/UK discography; a listing of unreleased Motown tracks; a complete tv-film appearance listing; the full document of the 1969 lawsuit against Motown Records; newspaper articles, magazines, interview transcripts, court documents, and other official documents, liner notes, press releases, and books. You will learn everything you knew and most likely did not know about Mary including her brief romantic fling with Jackie Wilson. For music enthusiasts and Motown fans, I wholeheartedly recommend this biography on Mary. After reading it as I have, you will rediscover "The Sound of Young America" and the history of how Mary started this era. Thank you Mr. Benjaminson for this excellent biography on Mary Wells.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
WOWWWWW! I tell you, WE really don't truly know anyone, now do we? This book clearly demonstrates that about the appropriately-named title Tumultuous life of Mary Wells. I've been a fan of Mary's music for most of my life having grown up listening to it. The Motown sound is something that you cannot escape.

She was such a talented person with a troubled soul. I wonder sometimes if these special types of gifts God gives us is a "gift" or a curse. I suppose it's all in the way you handle your blessing. Unfortunately, Mary had so many demons, she couldn't escape herself.

From leaving Motown and Berry Gordy, The Chairman, as he is penned, to going to Twentieth Century to several other record companies, Mary just couldn't find her way. She did, unfortunately, find her way to too many cigarettes and drugs. All of this was of Mary's doing in some ways, especially the guilt she felt for what she did to the Womack family, whom being the most well-known R&B legend, Bobby Womack. What she does was almost Jerry Springer-ish of sorts. I had to go back and reread some of this section because the relationships got so muddied.

I could not put this book down! I learned so much about this famous singer and all her money troubles. Again, many of her problems were due to her own accord. Peter did an outstanding job bringing Mary to life, and it was also great that Mary, while on her deathbed, decided to come clean and tell her story the way she wanted it to be said. No on can dispute that she was a troubled soul, but at least, before her death, she became whole, in my opinion.

This is a great story and sad at the same time, but one worth adding to your list, if you're a reader who loves biographies and memoirs, such as myself! Well done!
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