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Ross, Diana (26th March 1944 – Present)

Diane Ernestine Earle Ross was born in Detroit, Michigan, and formed her first group, The Primettes, at the age of fifteen.  It comprised the vocal talents of Florence Ballard, Betty McGlown, and Mary Wilson.

In 1961, they were signed by Motown and changed their moniker to The Supremes.  Barbara Martin replaced McGlown for a short time, then left.  The Supremes would be a trio, with Diana Ross supplying all the lead vocals with the exception of “Buttered Popcorn”, sung by Ballard.  They were not exactly an overnight sensation.  In the early days, Ross also worked as a secretary for Motown’s head honcho, Berry Gordy, Jr.  Her typing days would be numbered, however, as The Supremes garnered their first hit, “When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes”, penned by hitmakers Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland, and Edward Holland, Jr., in 1963.

A flood of hits would follow, including “Baby Love”, “Come See About Me”, and “Stop! In the Name of Love”, all of which charted in the top ten.  Between 1964 and 1969, The Supremes would top the charts a dozen times in the U.S., second only to The Beatles.  In spite of this success, Berry Gordy had other plans for Diana Ross.  In 1967, he had renamed the group Diana Ross & The Supremes.  By the late ’60s, he was using The Andantes in place of Wilson and Cindy Birdsong, who had joined The Supremes midstream.  In 1969, he swapped out Ross for Jean Terrell, and Diana Ross and The Supremes went their separate ways.

Ross embarked on her solo recording career in 1969 with what might have been her first #1, but it was mysteriously released as Diana Ross & The Supremes’ last, the ironically titled “Someday We’ll Be Together”.  That day turned out to be 14th January 1970, at Las Vegas’s Frontier Hotel.  It was the last time Diana Ross & The Supremes would perform in a public concert together until an ill-fated reunion tour in 2000.

A few months later, Ross’s self-titled debut solo album would finally hit the shelves.  Produced in large part by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, it yielded Ross the first of many solo successes.  ” Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” went to #20 on the Billboard chart.  ” Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, a remake of the Marvin Gaye-Tammi Terrell hit duet from 1967, gave Ross her first #1.

Her solo career was barely out of the gates when Berry Gordy decided to set up shop in L.A., where he had aspirations of being the next Hollywood starmaker, with Ross being the star.  Motown’s first movie project was to be a biopic of Billie Holiday, and Ross was slated to play the part.  This outraged much of the public, which couldn’t see how a modern pop singer, whose voice had absolutely nothing in common with the jazz legend’s smoky delivery, could possibly pull it off.  She did.  Lady Sings The Blues was a massive hit, and Ross was nominated for an Oscar.  Its soundtrack enjoyed a two-week run atop the Billboard 200.

Other films followed.  The production-riddled Mahogany eventually got made with Berry Gordy replacing Tony Richardson as director, although his squabbles with Ross led her to exit stage right long before the shooting was over.  It nevertheless enjoyed box-office success.  The same cannot be said for 1978’s The Wiz.  Stephanie Mills, who had played Dorothy in the Broadway version, was originally slated to play the part, but Ross, twenty-four years old and much too long in the tooth to play an eleven-year-old, talked Universal mucky-muck Rob Cohen into giving her the role.  The result was a flop.  Upon its initial release in 1978, The Wiz wound up $10 million in the red.  Only the accompanying soundtrack fared well, selling 850,000+ records worldwide.  It was the end of Ross’s short-lived movie career, although she has appeared in a couple of TV movies since.

The time was ripe to get back into a recording studio with the Ashford-Simpson produced The Boss, which went gold, and her second self-titled album, Diana, which went multi-platinum and yielded Ross two of her biggest hits, “I’m Coming Out”, which peaked at #5, and “Upside Down”, her fifth #1.  ” It’s My Turn”, the theme song to the movie of the same name, also reached the top ten.  Another motion picture theme, “Endless Love”, a duet with Lionel Richie, turned out to be her biggest, and last, #1 hit with Motown.  Ross was tired of Gordy pulling the strings and decided to sign with RCA for an unprecedented $20 million.  It paid dividends straight off.  Why Do Fools Fall In Love? went platinum, and its title track and “Mirror Mirror” both reached the top ten.  It was just the beginning of a string of hits with RCA that included the Bee Gees-penned “Chain Reaction”, Ross’s eulogy for her long-time friend Marvin Gaye entitled “Missing You”, and “Muscles”, written and produced by Michael Jackson.

The hits eventually started to dry up, at least in the U.S., and Ross briefly returned to Motown.  None of her subsequent albums managed to recapture the old Motown magic, however.  Although she continued to chart in the U.K. and has a tremendous international following to this day, it wasn’t until 2007 that a Diana Ross album would crack the top forty on the album chart, the first to do so in twenty-three years.

On the strength of this, she launched a tour of the U.S. and Europe.  It seems it was her turn again.

Diana Ross recordings
Give Up (Bernard Edwards/Nile Rodgers)
I’m Coming Out (Bernard Edwards/Nile Rodgers)
It’s My Turn (Michael Masser/Carole Bayer Sager)
Mirror, Mirror (Dennis Matkosky/Michael Sembello)
Sweet Nothings (Dub Albritton/Ronnie Self)
Think I’m In Love (Laura Taylor)
Together (Michael Masser/Pam Sawyer)
Why Do Fools Fall In Love (Morris Levy/Frankie Lymon)