At the age of 15, she travelled to America where she worked as a nanny for two years in Brooklyn and Kansas, during which time she intensified her love of black music, especially the Philadelphia sound pioneered by Thom Bell and Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff.
Back in England, Wilson took a desk job at Global Van Lines and scored a few gigs as a backup singer for various London bands.
In 1979 she cut her first single, Love Man, which earned her some critical attention and led to Dance Card, the song that became her first hit.
Wilson’s image was pure 1960s kitsch – Beehive hairdo, pink dress and “mink” stole – and Mari and her eleven-piece backing group (The Wilsations) consistently provided a near-perfect pastiche of the 60s girl group sound.
She began doing regular shows at Dingwalls, and as her live shows gained notoriety, Mari began taking her entourage on tour – an expensive proposition for such a large group, as she explained in 1983;
“There aren’t too many people stupid enough to take eleven people on tour. . . I’m earning less money now than I did at Global Van Lines.”
Her 1982 singles Beat The Beat and Baby It’s True had minor impact on the charts, and she eventually hit the Top 10 with Just What I Always Wanted, which fully encapsulated the Wilson style.
However, it was the following year’s cover of Julie London‘s torch-song Cry Me A River which, despite only reaching #27, most people have come to associate with Mari.
The song also generated a revival of interest in London’s recordings, resulting in many long-lost (and forgotten) albums being re-released.
After touring the world, Mari returned home and slipped out of the limelight, despite providing the vocals to the soundtrack of the Ruth Ellis biopic Dance With A Stranger.
In 1985, she started playing small clubs with her jazz quartet performing standards, as well as writing her own material, which led her to appear with Stan Getz at London’s Royal Festival Hall.
After a hiatus of over ten years, Mari Wilson re-started her recording career with Dolled Up in 2005.