Born Diane Ernestine Earle Ross on March 26, 1944, in Detroit, MI; daughter of Fred (a factory worker) and Ernestine Ross; married Robert Ellis Silberstein, 1971 (divorced, 1976); married Arne Naess, Jr., 1985 (divorced, 2000); childre n: Rhonda, Suzanne, Tracee Joy, Chudney, Ross Arne, Evan. Addresses: Record company--Motown Records, 825 Eighth Ave., 28th Fl., New York, NY 10019, website: http://www.motown.com. Agent--Rogers & Cowan PR, 1888 Century Park E., Ste. 500, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Website--Diana Ross Official Webs ite: http://www.dianaross.com.
As lead singer for The Supremes, the most successful female vocal group in pop music history, Diana Ross became world famous during the mid-1960s. She continued to fan the flames of stardom after becoming a solo act at the end of the decade and lat er received accolades as an actress in a number of star vehicles. In the process, she became one of the most influential and wealthiest women in show business.
"Although never a commanding instrument, Ross's small, syrupy voice with its dash of vinegar can convey a certain calculated poignancy," wrote Stephen Holden in the New York Times in 1991. Using this voice to deliver the songs of ace songwriters Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Brian Holland for Motown, Ross and The Supremes generated a phenomenal fourteen top-ten records from 1964 and 1967, including ten number-one hits. As a solo artist or in duets afte r leaving the Supremes, Ross continued climbing into the hit parade with a dozen top-ten singles from 1970 to 1985.
Grew Up in the Ghetto
Diana Ross was raised in the low-income Brewster-Douglass housing project in Detroit, where she had to share one bed with two sisters and three brothers. Despite the obvious hardship, Ross recalls her childhood as a happy one. "We always had a good life," she told Woman's Day in 1990. "It wasn't like we had gobs of money. But we always had what we needed somehow. Later on, I found out that our neighborhood is called the ghetto. But, basically, i t was a warm, loving family environment. There was always something exciting going on."
Singing in the choir at the local Olivet Baptist church led to her meeting Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard, and the threesome later sang together at social functions. They joined up with Betty Anderson in 1959 to become The Primettes as a sister gr oup to The Primes formed by Eddie Kendricks, which would later become The Temptations. Anderson was later replaced by Barbara Martin--who dropped out in 1962--which solidified the group as a trio. Still in high school, the Primettes took in abou t $15 a week as performers. They also made some recordings for the small Lupine label, which weren't released until after the girls achieved stardom as the Supremes.
When the new Motown Records company was started in Detroit, Ross and her fellow singers began hanging around the building in hopes of being discovered. Ross gives a lot of credit to her mother in supporting her quest to become a singer. As she told Woman's Day, "She [her mother] said, 'Is this what you want to do? Do you think you can do this well?' And I said 'Yes.' And she said, 'I want you to finish high school and we'll do that.'" Berry Gordy, Jr., the creator of Motown, brought the Primettes and Primes on board in 1961. The Primettes were so young that their parents had to be in attendance when the contracts were signed. Gordy renamed the group The Supremes and used them primarily as backup singers for established Motown artists such as Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells.
During the next few years, Ross spent a good deal of time on the road gaining singing experience but not building her reputation to any degree. Although the group cut its first Motown single in 1961, they lacked the distinctive sound that was necess ary to click with listening audiences. It wasn't until Gordy assigned Holland, Dozier, and Holland to create songs for them that the group struck a chord. The first of these songs, with Ross on lead, was the two-million seller "Where Did Our Lo ve Go?" released in 1964. Within a year, the group recorded six number-one hits including "Baby Love," "Come See About Me," "Stop! In the Name of Love," "Back in My Arms Again," and "I Hear a Sym phony."
Broke New Ground for Female Groups
Somewhat tame compared to other Motown acts of the time, The Supremes had a gentle sound supported by just enough of a beat to make their records danceable, which deftly accented Ross's appealing, youthful voice. In 1988, Rollin g Stone listed "Stop! In the Name of Love" at number ten on its list of Top 100 singles in pop music. The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock said that the "Supremes' '60s output wit h Holland/Dozier/Holland ranks among finest pop music ever."
In addition to closing the color gap in women's music in the 1960s, The Supremes made the music more marketable by presenting a glamorous image along with a touch of soul that was not demonstrated by other women's groups. Critical to the g roup's success, of course, was Diana Ross, who proved her versatility by applying the Motown sound to ballads, country and western songs, and even psychedelic numbers. As was indicated in Rolling Stone, the output of the Su premes was "almost a perfect song cycle, progressing steadily from the wide-eyed simplicity and sexy vulnerability of the first hit to the world-weary complexity of the last."
Ross's personal relationship with label founder Berry Gordy enabled the singer to ditch the group's shared spotlight scenario for heightened individual status. As a result, in 1969, the group's name was changed to Diana Ross and Th e Supremes, although even then the lead singer was planning her departure from the trio. Her exit into a solo career became official after a final performance with The Supremes at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas in January of 1970. Her final Supremes reco rding in 1969, "Someday We'll Be Together," was the group's 12th number-one song with Ross. Various line-ups of the Supremes scored several top 40 hits, most notably "Up the Ladder to the Roof" and "Stoned Love," before they officially disbanded in 1976, only to be revived as a touring act with Mary Wilson as the lead singer in 1983.
Expanded Range as Solo Performer
Solo, Ross steadily moved up from the nightclub circuit to major concert tours in the 1970s. She hit the charts with Ashford and Simpson's "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)" in 1970, and soared to number one with her versi on of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" later that year. Under Gordy's careful direction, Ross was upgraded from pop singing superstar to rock and pop diva by appearing in elaborately staged performances and television specials.
Ross also ventured onto the big screen with a much heralded performance as Billie Holiday in 1972's Lady Sings the Blues. Ross earned an Academy Award nomination for her performance, but the film itself was not favora bly reviewed. Her drawing power was evident in her being able to make that film and the subsequent Mahogany box office successes despite a lack of critical support. The soundtracks for her movies were also popular with the publi c.
With number one hits such as "Touch Me in the Morning," Ross transcended the pop formulas that had fueled the success of The Supremes. As a solo artist she concentrated largely on ballads that capitalized on her ability to generate emoti on. For a time during the early 1970s, she focused on jazz numbers, and she often performed songs that had been part of Holiday's repertoire. She was especially acclaimed for her performance at Radio City Music Hall that closed the Newport (now New Y ork) Jazz Festival in 1974. Then she shifted away from jazz and back to pop music, performing a wide range of pop standards along with her own music at concerts. Her repertoire ran the gamut from Rodgers and Hart songs to Beatles songs and show tunes, alo ng with medleys of her hits with The Supremes.
Ross somewhat surprised audiences in 1976 when she ventured into the realm of disco music and recorded the number-one hit "Love Hangover." Meanwhile, her concert performances had become major media events. Robert Palmer wrote in the New York Times in 1977 that "in stage shows, she is perfectly at home with contemporary middle-of-the-road material. On records, she continued to be convincing as a rhythm-and-blues singer, performing an updated disco-style id iom." Ross added another category to her resume in 1978 when she starred in the movie version of the Broadway hit, The Wiz. She had purchased the rights to the film and had changed the character of Dorothy to an adult so t hat she could play a role, a move that was criticized by many at the time.
Left Motown for RCA
By the late 1970s, Ross's live show often featured tributes to legendary blues singers such as Josephine Baker, Ethel Waters, and Bessie Smith. However, by then she often drew criticism for overstaging her concert performances with extravagance s in costuming and atmosphere that detracted from the music. Similar criticisms were launched about her 1977 television special, An Evening with Diana. Meanwhile, she went through stormy affairs with actor Ryan O'Neal and G ene Simmons of the rock group Kiss.
Ross's longtime relationship with Motown also soured. Claiming that she had "gone as far as I could in that relationship," according to Essence, she left Motown to sign a purported $20 million dolla r contract with RCA for the United States, and one with Capitol for the rest of the world. She achieved immediate success with her new label with the release of Why Do Fools Fall in Love? in 1981. That year, she also paired up w ith Lionel Richie on the title song for the movie Endless Love, which turned out to be one of her major hits of the decade.
Demonstrating admirable business skills, Ross set up a number of corporations under her name and accumulated massive wealth during her solo years. She has often been called dictatorial in both her business and artistic ventures, as well as susceptib le to drastic changes of mood. Many have blamed her for forcing Florence Ballard out of the Supremes, who left in the late 1960s, but Ross has denied it. In her 1993 autobiography, Secrets of a Sparrow, Ross recounted her life a s a Supreme, solo performer, actress, businesswoman, wife, and mother of five children. She wrote about her complicated relationship with Berry Gordy over the years, and tried to dispel some of the negative images that have proliferated in other books abo ut her life.
Ross returned to Motown in 1989 with her Workin' Overtime album, with an additional role as partner on the company's board of directors. Her career lagged during the next few years. It was then resuscitated by h er well-received 1991 album, The Force Behind the Power, which featured contemporary ballads written by Stevie Wonder and other artists. On other fronts, Ross initiated efforts to produce three made-for-television movies, two th em star vehicles for her. In Out of Darkness, aired by ABC in January of 1994, she played a schizophrenic who is repeatedly institutionalized. In his review in People, David Hiltbrand wrote, "Ross's performance is inspired both in the ferocious beginning and later, in a more subdued fashion, in conveying the way regret and resolve commingle in a person who is recovering from an incapacitating disease that has hacked years out of her life."
In 1999, Ross co-starred with pop-singer Brandy in the ABC television movie, Double Platinum. The movie tells the story of the reunion of a young singer, played by Brandy, and the now-superstar mother who abandoned her (Ro ss). That same year, Ross released a new album entitled, Every Day Is A New Day. According to Michael Paoletta of Billboard, "the album is primarily steeped in lush ballads and sensual midtempo j ams." However, Paoletta notes that Ross's cover of Martha Wash's "Carry On" is a definite stand out dance track and that Ross has given the song "a new lease on life." The album also featured several songs performed on the television movie Double Platinum.
Ross was arrested in September of 1999 after allegedly assaulting a female security officer at Heathrow airport in London, England. Ross, who was waiting to board a flight to New York, was subjected to a routine frisking after her silver belt buckle set off the metal detector. Ross claimed that the officer had touched her breast during the body search. Witnesses reported that Ross reacted by touching the security officer's breast and asking, "How do you like it?" After boarding her flight, the police removed Ross from the plane and placed her under arrest. Ross was held at the police station for five hours. "I sat in the police room crying my eyes out," Ross said in The Mirror. "I was fri ghtened, absolutely terrified. I felt violated and humiliated." She was then released with a caution from police.
Return to Love Tour
Controversy began shortly after it was announced that Diana Ross and the Supremes would embark on a reunion tour in 2000. The tour, named the Return to Love tour, did not feature original Supreme Mary Wilson. When she was offered two million dollars and Ross was offered twenty million, Wilson, feeling that the offer was not a fair one, declined to join the tour. Wilson, whose financial disputes with Ross were highly publicized, told Jet that she felt an offer of "a t hird" of the tour's profits would have been more appropriate, considering that she is a founding member of the Supremes. Cindy Birdsong, who replaced original member Florence Ballard, also declined to appear after receiving an offer that, accor ding to Wilson, "wasn't even a million." Instead, Scherrie Payne and Lynda Laurence, who Mary Wilson hired after Ross left the Supremes, were recruited for the tour.
The controversial tour was not a successful one. At most venues, less than half of the tickets were sold. Gary Bongiovanni, a concert magazine writer, told People Weekly that the public felt the tour "wasn't a r eal Supremes reunion." The tour's controversy was also flamed by frequent cancellations until, finally, the Return to Love tour was canceled due to low ticket sales.
The early 2000s were not kind to the fading superstar. A conviction on DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol) charges made her the subject of national ridicule via the television show Saturday Night Live. As a form of damage control, Ross addressed the controversies of her later career in 2004 with the second volume of her autobiography, Wrong Turns, Right Turns and the Road Ahead. Although her days as a commercial force seem spent, few ar tists have had as much of an impact on music, and the entertainment business overall, as Diana Ross.
by Ed Decker and Ken Burke
Diana Ross's Career
Began singing as part of quartet with The Primettes, 1959; signed to Motown Records (group's name was changed to The Supremes), 1960; released first single with Supremes for Motown, 1961; left Supremes to pursue solo career, 1968; appeared on Broadway with one-woman show An Evening with Diana Ross, 1976; signed contract with RCA, 1980; returned to Motown, 1989; wrote the first volume of her autobiography Diana Ross: Secret of a Sparrow for Headline Books, 1993; with Roseanne Shelnutt co-authored the career scrapbook Diana Ross: Going Back for Universe Books, 2002; released the second volume of her autobiography Wrong Turns, Right Turns, and the Road Ahead for Reagan Books, 2004.
Diana Ross's Awards
NAACP Image Award, Female Entertainer of the year, 1970; Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award, 1972; Golden Globe Award, Most Promising Newcomer, 1972; American Music Awards, Favorite Pop/Rock Album, 1974; Favorite Female Artist, Soul/R&B, a nd Favorite Single, Soul R&B, 1981; Favorite Female Artist, Pop/Rock, Favorite Single, Soul R&B, 1982; Favorite Female Artist, Soul/R&B, and Special Award of Merit, 1983; Inducted into Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame as member of Suprem es, 1988; Guinness Book of World Records, named Most Successful Female Singer of All Time, 1993; Soul Train Music Awards, Heritage Award for Career Achievement, 1995; inducted into Soul Train Hall of Fame, 1995; World Music Awards, Lifetime Achievement Award, 1996; National Academy of Popular Music, Songwriters Hall of Fame Hitmaker Award, 1998; BET Walk of Fame Award, 1999; National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (N ARAS), Heros Award, 2000.
- Selected discography
- Singles with The Supremes
- "Where did Our Love Go?," 1964.
- "Come See About Me," 1964.
- "Baby Love," 1964.
- "Stop! In the Name of Love!," 1965.
- "Back in My Arms Again," 1965.
- "I Hear a Symphony," 1965.
- "My World Is Empty Without You," 1966.
- "You Can't Hurry Love," 1966.
- "You Keep Me Hangin' On," 1966.
- "Love is Here and Now You're Gone," 1967.
- "Reflections," 1967.
- "The Happening," 1967.
- "Love Child," 1968.
- "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," 1968.
- "Someday We'll Be Together," 1969.
- Solo singles
- "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)," 1970.
- "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," 1970.
- "Touch Me in the Morning," 1973.
- "Do You Know Where You're Going To (Theme from 'Mahogany')," 1976.
- "Love Hangover," 1976.
- "Upside Down," 1980.
- "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?," 1981.
- "Missing You," 1985.
- (With Marvin Gaye) "You're a Special Part of Me," 1973.
- (With Lionel Richie) "Endless Love," 1982.
- Albums with The Supremes
- Meet the Supremes Motown, 1964.
- Live at the Apollo Motown, 1964.
- More Hits Motown, 1965.
- The Supremes Sing Motown Motown, 1967.
- Greatest Hits Motown, 1968.
- The Supremes Join the Temptations Motown, 1969.
- Solo albums
- Diana Ross Motown, 1970.
- Lady Sings the Blues Motown, 1972.
- Greatest Hits Motown, 1976.
- Why Do Fools Fall in Love? RCA/Capitol, 1981.
- Swept Away Capitol, 1984.
- The Force Behind the Power Motown, 1991.
- Every Day Is A New Day Motown, 1999.
- Life & Love: The Very Best of Diana Ross EMI, 2000.
- The #1's Motown 2004.
- Clifford, Mike, consultant, The Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, sixth edition, Harmony Books, 1988.
- Rees, Dafydd, and Crampton, Luke VH1 Rock Stars Encyclopedia, new edition, Dorling Kindersley, 1999.
- Ross, Diana, Secrets of a Sparrow, Villard, 1993.
- Whitburn, Joel, The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, seventh edition, Billboard Books, 2000.
- Billboard, May 8, 1999; May 22, 1999; July 22, 2000.
- Cosmopolitan, November 1989.
- Ebony, February 1970.
- Essence, October 1989.
- Hollywood Reporter, May 18, 1999.
- Interview, October 1981.
- Jet, July 24, 2000; May 15, 2000.
- The Mirror (London, England), September 23, 1999.
- New York Daily News, July 9, 1974.
- New York Times, July 15, 1976; March 4, 1977; July 25, 1977; February 19, 1989; September 21, 1991; November 17, 1993.
- People, January 17, 1994; July 17, 2000.
- Publisher's Weekly, November 1, 1993, p. 33.
- Rolling Stone, November 23, 1972; September 8, 1988.
- South China Morning Post, September 23, 1999.
- Woman's Day, March 20, 1990.
- "Diana Ross," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 22, 2004).
- "Diana Ross," Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com (February 22, 2004).