Mary Wells (May 3, 1943 – July 26,
Mary Esther Wells was born
in Detroit, Michigan. She and her two older brothers were raised by their mother. At 3, Wells was bedridden for two years with spinal meningitis which impaired her vision and hearing. At 10 she contracted tuberculosis. Her ailments almost sent her into a science or medical career, but she caught the performing bug instead. At 17, she tracked down Motown label founder Berry Gordy and belted out an original composition, Bye Bye Baby. Gordy signed her the following day. She recorded the single and hit #45 on the Hot 100. Gordy teamed her up with Smokey Robinson. Together they created The One Who Really Loves You, You Beat Me to the Punch, Two Lovers and her signature song My Guy (1964). My Guy topped the charts for two weeks, and Wells was dubbed the “Queen of Motown.” Unfortunately, Motown had a habit of using the profits from their hit singles to launch the careers of other artists. Wells wanted out.
She did get out of Motown and signed with Fox, hoping for a movie career. The movies didn’t pan out nor did any future hits. In 1965, she signed with the Atco label. Here, Wells had some minor hits, including one with her husband at the time, Cecil Womack (younger brother of singer Bobby Womack), The Doctor. In 1974, Wells somewhat retired to concentrate on her family. She and Womack divorced later that decade and Wells returned to music. In 1981, she had a disco hit with Gigolo. Since she had surrendered the royalties to her earlier (and biggest) hits, Wells was forced now to tour to make a living. She was diagnosed with larynx cancer in 1990. At this point, with her voice gone (it was reduced to a whisper), she was evicted from her home. In the fall of 1991, she testified before a Congressional Committee to push for cancer research funding. On July 26, 1992, Wells died in Los Angeles, California. She was only 49 years old. My Guy was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.