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Diana Ross (born Diane Ernestine Earle Ross on March 26, 1944 in Detroit, Michigan) is an African-American soul, R&B and pop singer and actress. Ross is one of the most successful female artists of her era, both due to her solo work and her role as lead singer of The Supremes during the 1960s.
In 1976, Billboard magazine named her the female entertainer of the century. In 1993, The Guinness Book Of World Records pronounced her the most successful female artist ever, partly due to her combined total of eighteen #1 singles, six of them recorded solo and the remaining dozen from her work with the Supremes. Only The Beatles (twenty number ones) and Elvis Presley (eighteen number ones) have equalled or bettered this accomplishment.
Main entry: The Supremes
Fred and Ernestine Ross had named and christened their daughter "Diane"; however, due to a clerical error, "Diana" was what wound up on her birth certificate . Regardless of the mistake, Ross would continue to use the name "Diane" through her teenage years.
Ross began her long music career with Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard and Betty McGlown as the doo-wop quartet the Primettes, a sister group to The Primes in 1959. After signing to Motown Records in 1961 and replacing McGlown with Barbara Martin, they changed the name of the group to The Supremes. Barbara Martin left the group shortly afterwards, and The Supremes carried on as a trio.
Although all the girls originally took turns singing lead, Motown chief Berry Gordy made Diane the permanent lead singer starting in 1964, because he felt her soprano voice had the pop appeal the Supremes needed to cross over to white audiences. Ross also began using the name "Diana" at this time. Between the summer of 1964 and the summer of 1967, the Supremes released ten hit singles making #1 and became the most successful black group of the decade.
In July 1967, Florence Ballard was fired from the Supremes and replaced with Cindy Birdsong. At this time, the group was officially renamed Diana Ross & the Supremes officially recognizing Ross as the focal point of the group. During this period, the group had two more #1 hits as Motown began plans for a Diana Ross solo career, which was announced in November 1969. In January 1970, Ross officially departed from the Supremes after a January 14 Farewell concert at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. The group moved on with new lead singer Jean Terrell, while Ross put the finishing touches on her debut album.
Early solo career
In the spring of 1970, Diana Ross, Ross' debut solo album, was released. After the initial moderate success of what turned out to be Ross' signature concert song, "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)" (US #20, US R&B #7), Ross broke out of the pack with her cover of Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell's 1967 classic "Ain't No Mountain High Enough". The original 3-minute love duet was turned into a 6-minute dramatic soul opus, where Ross was in spoken word half of the running time. The song would peak at #1 on both the U.S. pop and R&B charts, and Ross received a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.
In the first few years of Ross' solo career, she developed a polished, soulful style that was particularly her own and was well suited to her work with songwriters-producers Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson. Ross and Gordy struggled to find a record able to top the success of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough". Her second release, Everything Is Everything, failed to produce a top 10 hit. However, her covers of Aretha Franklins "Call Me" and the Beatles "The Long and Winding Road" on that album showed that she was, indeed, a singer to be reckoned with, exhibiting both the vulnerability and longing that would become her trademark. The cover photo of that album would later inspire Britney Spears who wears a similar outfit in her 2004 video for her single "Toxic". For her third, 1971's Surrender, she was teamed again with Ashford and Simpson. "Surrender" was notable for several Top 40 solo recordings, however, Gordy decided Ross needed a new outlet for her talent and set his sights on motions picture. It would prove to be a fateful move.
Lady Sings the Blues
When word got out that singer Diana Ross was going to portray jazz-blues legend Billie Holiday in a box-office movie, critics, Holiday's fans and Ross' skeptics laughed at the news. Like many of the singers-turned-actors of the day, Ross was slammed early by critics because "she didn't look like Billie" nor did she have the same qualities that made Holiday so unique when she became a superstar during the jazz era. However, Ross, Gordy, and the newly established film division of Motown Productions carried on with their Billie Holiday bio-pic production, Lady Sings the Blues.
Opening in theaters in the fall of 1972, Lady Sings the Blues became an instant hit and Ross received universal raves for her performance as Billie Holiday. It not only increased the star powers of Ross and Richard Pryor, who played Piano Man, but introduced the world to future star Billy Dee Williams, who would go on to become the leading Black sex symbol of the 1970s. Ross was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, and won Best Newcomer at the 1973 Golden Globes.
Ross covered a number of Holiday's songs for the film, including "Strange Fruit", "God Bless the Child", and "Good Morning Heartache", which was released as a single on the double-album Lady Sings the Blues soundtrack at the end of 1972. That album went on to hold the #1 spot on the album charts, and would be Ross' only solo album to reach that position.
Diana & Marvin
By 1973, Diana Ross finally was able to see more chart success as a singer for the first time since 1970. With the Michael Masser produced "Touch Me in the Morning", she scored her first #1 pop hit in three years and received a second Grammy nomination. That same year, Ross released a duets album with fellow Motown artist Marvin Gaye entitled Diana and Marvin, scoring several chart hits. While the album was a moderate financial success, critics noted the lack of chemistry between the two singers, a result of the fact that their parts were recorded separately--Ross was pregnant with her first child during the time of recording in early 1971, and Gaye refused to stop smoking his marijuana in the studio when she was around. However, their partnership did produce some classic moments for them including their takes on the Stylistics' "You Are Everything" and "Stop, Look, Listen" and their own hit, "You're a Special Part of Me".
After the success of Lady Sings the Blues in 1972, Berry Gordy arranged for Diana Ross to take the lead in Mahogany. After firing renowned British director Tony Richardson claiming he did not understand the Black sensibility that the film required, Gordy assumed directing duties himself. The story was about a young woman from the Chicago ghettos who dreamed of being a successful model and fashion designer. Again, she teamed up with Billy Dee Williams as her love interest.
Opening in the fall of 1975, Mahogany wasn't the critical phenomenon that Ross probably hoped for, though it was a bankable success in the box-office. The film's theme song and lead soundtrack single, "Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To)", hit #1 on the US pop charts and was nominated for an Oscar. During the Oscars telecast, Ross became the first artist to perform for the Oscars ceremony via satellite; she sang "Theme From Mahogany" from a bridge in Holland where she was performing a series of concerts Holland.
"Love Hangover", The Wiz, and diana
In 1976, Ross headed into disco territory with the release of the seven-minute dance single "Love Hangover". It became her first #1 R&B hit since "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and the first of many of her songs to appear at or near the top of the Billboard Dance/Club singles chart. "Love Hangover" was released from Ross' second self-titled album, which became a Top 10 Pop and R&B album that summer. The hit had previously been turned down by Cher, Donna Summer, Bette Midler, and Barbra Streisand.
In 1977, Diana broke concert records with a one-woman concert on Broadway. The concert was packaged into both a live album, An Evening with Diana Ross, and a TV special that same year. For her efforts, Ross won a special Tony Award.
In 1978, Ross was back in the film limelight, starring in the film version of the successful Broadway play The Wiz, with Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, and Richard Pryor. Many eyebrows were raised at Ross, then age 34, playing Dorothy, who in all other versions of The Wizard of Oz was portrayed as a young girl. The Wiz, which cost $24 million to make, only brought in $13 million dollars during its original theatrical release.
Unfortunately, projects Ross was planned to appear in, including a movie about Josephine Baker and The Bodyguard, which was supposed to co-star Ross and actor Ryan O'Neal as lovers, didn't come to fruition until years later. Actress Lynn Whitfield ended up playing Baker, and Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner ended up playing the lovers in The Bodyguard (1992).
Diana Ross returned to her music career and released two strong successive albums: 1979's The Boss and 1980's diana. The former, produced by longtime Ross collaborators Ashford & Simpson, was a bigger hit on the R&B charts than on the pop charts, but has since been hailed by most music critics as probably her strongest album as a solo artist. The latter, produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of the legendary disco band Chic, became the singer's biggest-selling record in her career, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart. The diana album yielded two classic signature hits: "Upside Down", Ross' first #1 of the '80s (and first British #1) and her fifth as a solo artist, and "I'm Coming Out", which became a gay anthem and cemented Ross as a gay icon. Both songs have since been heavily sampled by hip hop artists.
The RCA era
Having established herself as the biggest-selling female artist of the Motown label by 1981, Ross felt it was the right time to leave. Before leaving, however, she recorded a duet with Lionel Richie called "Endless Love", which proved to be the biggest record of her career as well as her last hit on the Motown label.
In 1983 Ross reunited with fellow Supremes Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong at a television special for Motown's 25th anniversary. During the taping, Ross and Wilson fought over a microphone and Ross reportedly snatched the microphone, and at another point shoved Wilson. This incident was never televised, but generated much negative press at the time (Wilson recounted the incident in her 1986 biography). Also in 1983, Ross garnered publicity when a Central Park televised concert was ruined by heavy rains.
She signed to RCA, and had several successful releases, beginning with Why Do Fools Fall in Love, which featured a cover of the Frankie Lymon hit. Ross' success continued into the early 80s including the hit singles "Mirror, Mirror" (1981), and "Muscles" (1982). In 1984, she released "Missing You", a tribute to the recently deceased Marvin Gaye, which became her final Top 10 hit. After a downturn in record sales during the second half of 80s, she returned to the Motown fold with Workin' Overtime in 1989.
Returning to Motown
Her Motown releases since 1989 have not been as successful in America as they have in Europe. For example, while 1991's Force Behind the Power and the Top 40 hit "When You Tell Me You Love Me" were moderate successes in America, the album and the song became bigger hits overseas. 1995's Take Me Higher and 1999's Everyday Is a New Day performed similarly.
Diana expanded her versatily during this period by both recording a live opera album and a live jazz album. Both releases did respectfully well on the Billboard Classical and Jazz Albums charts as a result, making Ross one of the only artists to achieve fame in other charts other than the usual Pop and R&B. After the moderate success of Everyday Is a New Day, however, Ross was let go from Motown, after a lackluster 13 years, in 2002.
During the 1990s, Diana returned to acting, appearing as a schizophrenic in the 1994 telefilm Out of Darkness, and as a singer who's willing to reconcile with a daughter (played by Brandy Norwood) that she abandoned as a baby in 1999's Double Platinum. Ross was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in Darkness.
Troubles at the top
Ross seemed to settle into middle age as the 90s continued, but by the end of the decade, the singer landed in hot water after she was frisked by a female security guard at London's Heathrow Airport, and was ignored by Airport official when she complained that the guard's actions had not only been inappropriate, but verged on sexual harassment. She claimed it had not been necessary for the guard to feel her breasts and between her legs as she was wearing a skin-tight body stocking and was obviously not carrying a concealed weapon. Her complaints fell on deaf ears and after the security guard smirked at the Star as she returned to catch her flight, Ross approached the guard and frisked her in the same way she had been frisked, exclaiming "There, how do you like it." The security guard didn't like it. Ross was arrested, but the charges were eventually dropped.
In the 2000s, Ross tried to tried to put together a tour with the former members of The Supremes. However, former Supremes Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong passed on the tour, after being offered only $3 million and $1 million each, respectively, to join the tour, compared to the $15 million offered to Ross. Ross ended up recruiting Lynda Laurence and Scherrie Payne to begin the Return to Love tour. While Laurence and Payne were Supremes during the 1970s, they were never in the group at the same time or with Ross. The resulting tour was faced with problems, and was cancelled after the tenth show.
In 2002, Ross was pulled over for drunk driving outside of an Arizona Blockbuster Video store. After failing several sobriety tests and finding that her alcohol-blood level was 0.20--far above the legal Arizona limit of .08--the singer was arrested and later charged with a misdemeanor. In 2004, she served a 2-day sentence at a jail cell in Connecticut. The prison guard would later be accused of allowing Ross to do what she wanted while she was in prison. Ross only served 47 and one-half hours in jail, and was almost forced to return to serve another two-day sentence before a judge decided against it.
In 2004, Diana Ross, age 60, was on the brink of a major comeback. She began touring again, first in Europe for the successful "Love Life Tour", then later taking part in a brief tour in America as well. She later performed in tribute to her friend and former Motown Records alum Stevie Wonder at the 2004 Billboard Music Awards, alongside Mary J. Blige and Destiny's Child.
Ross, who as of present does not have a recording contract, worked with MAC Cosmetics earlier this year to promote a new line of makeup and in turn took several modeling photos for the lineup. She is now rumored to be working on a new album of love songs according to an unknown source, and is currently headlining another European tour.
Diana Ross is the second of six children, three girls and three boys, from factory worker Fred Ross and teacher Ernestine Earle Ross. From 1971 to 1977, Diana Ross was married to music promoter Robert Ellis Silberstein, with whom she has two daughters (Tracee and Chudney). From 1986 to 1999, she was married to Norwegian businessman Arne Næss Jr., with whom she has two sons (Ross and Evan). (Næss died in a South African mountain accident in January 2004).
Before her first marriage, Ross had been romantically linked with both Motown labelmate Smokey Robinson and Motown chief Berry Gordy, with whom she had her first child Rhonda. After her first marriage, she dated actor Ryan O'Neal, and KISS bassist and singer Gene Simmons.
Her oldest daughter, Rhonda Ross Kendrick, is a songstress and actress. Her second daughter, Tracee Ellis Ross, is an actress who received claim to fame as one of the stars of the hit sitcom Girlfriends, now in its fifth season on the UPN network. Ross' youngest daughter, Chudney, in the meantime, is a model.
- Motown releases
- 1970: Diana Ross (reissued the same year as Ain't No Mountain High Enough)
- 1970: Everything Is Everything
- 1971: Diana! (soundtrack from a 1971 television special)
- 1971: Surrender
- 1972: Lady Sings the Blues (soundtrack from the Billie Holliday bio-pic Ross starred in the same year)
- 1973: Touch Me in the Morning
- 1973: Diana & Marvin (duets album with Marvin Gaye)
- 1973: Last Time I Saw Him
- 1974: Live at Caesar's Palace
- 1976: Diana Ross
- 1977: An Evening with Diana Ross (live)
- 1977: Baby, It's Me
- 1978: Ross
- 1979: The Boss
- 1980: diana
- RCA releases
- 1981: Why Do Fools Fall In Love?
- 1982: Silk Electric
- 1983: Ross
- 1984: Swept Away
- 1985: Eaten Alive
- 1987: Red Hot Rhythm & Blues
- Motown releases
- 1989: Workin' Overtime
- 1989: The Greatest Hits Live
- 1991: The Force Behind the Power
- 1993: Christmas in Vienna (live, with Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras)
- 1993: Stolen Moments: The Lady Sings Jazz & Blues (live)
- 1995: Take Me Higher
- 1998: Very Special Season (Christmas album)
- 1999: Every Day Is A New Day
US Top 100 Singles
Below is a list of Diana Ross' solo singles that hit the Top 100 on the pop charts. Ross scored six US #1 hits as a solo aritst; added to the 12 #1's she recorded as lead singer of The Supremes, Ross ties with Elvis Presley, having eighteen #1 hit singles on the Billboard Hot 100:
- Motown releases
- 1970: "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)" (US #20)
- 1970: "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (US #1)
- 1970: "Remember Me" (US #16)
- 1971: "Reach Out (I'll Be There)" (US #29)
- 1971: "Surrender" (US #38)
- 1971: "I'm Still Waiting" (US #63)
- 1972: "Good Morning Heartache" (US #34)
- 1973: "Touch Me in the Morning" (US #1)
- 1973: "You're A Special Part of Me" (with Marvin Gaye) (US #12)
- 1974: "My Mistake (Was to Love You)" (with Marvin Gaye) (US #19)
- 1974: "Sleepin'" (US #70)
- 1974: "Last Time I Saw Him" (US #14)
- 1974: "Don't Knock My Love" (with Marvin Gaye) (US #46)
- 1975: "Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To)" (US #1)
- 1976: "I Thought It Took A Little Time (But Today I Fell In Love)" (US #47)
- 1976: "Love Hangover" (US #1)
- 1976: "One Love in My Lifetime" (US #25)
- 1977: "Gettin' Ready For Love" (US #27)
- 1978: "Your Love Is So Good For Me" (US #49)
- 1978: "You Got It" (US #49)
- 1978: "Ease On Down the Road" (with Michael Jackson) (US #41)
- 1979: "Pops, We Love You (A Tribute To Father)" (with Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, & Stevie Wonder) (US #59)
- 1979: "The Boss" (US #19)
- 1980: "Upside Down" (US #1)
- 1980: "I'm Coming Out" (US #5)
- 1980: "It's My Turn" (US #9)
- 1981: "One More Chance" (US #79)
- 1981: "Endless Love" (with Lionel Richie) (US #1)
- RCA releases
- 1981: "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" (US #7)
- 1982: "Mirror, Mirror" (US #8)
- 1982: "Work That Body" (US #44)
- 1982: "Muscles" (US #10)
- 1983: "So Close" (US #40)
- 1983: "Pieces of Ice" (US #31)
- 1983: Let's Go Up" (US #77)
- 1984: "All of You" (with Julio Iglesias) (US #19)
- 1984: "Swept Away" (US #17)
- 1984: "Missing You" (US #10)
- 1985: "Eaten Alive" (US #77)
- 1985: "Chain Reaction" (US #95)
- 1986: "Chain Reaction (remix)" (US #66)
- 1972: Lady Sings the Blues (Nominee for the Academy Award for Best Actress of 1972)
- 1975: Mahogany
- 1978: The Wiz
- 1994: Out of Darkness (telefilm)
- 1999: Double Platinum (telefilm)
- (1993). Secrets of a Sparrow: Memoirs. New York: Random House. ISBN 051-716622-4.
- (2002). Goin' Back. New York: Universe. ISBN 078-930797-9. (a scrapbook-style collection of photographs)
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