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Diana Ross is a singer, actor, record producer, and songwriter from the United States who performed as lead singer for The Supremes. She began a successful solo career in the late 60s and produced countless #1 tracks between the two.

Childhood and Education

Diana Ernestine Earle Ross was born on March 26, 1944, in Detroit, Michigan. Her mother, Ernestine Moten worked as a schoolteacher and her father, Fred Ross, Sr., served in the U.S. army. She grew up in a close family with her five siblings. The Ross family lived in North Detroit originally, nearby Smokey Robinson. In 1953, Ross’s mother developed tuberculosis and her father placed their children with relatives in Bessemer, Alabama, until she recovered.

On March 26, 1958, Ross’s 14th birthday, the family moved to the working-class housing projects of Brewster-Douglass.[1] She joined her family in the Baptist Church choir and sang secular music with her cousin.[2]

Diana Ross did not intend to pursue a career in music as a child, but wanted to be a fashion designer.

Diana Ross attended the three-year magnet and college preparatory school, Cass Technical High School, in downtown Detroit.[3] The local girls’ singing group, the Primettes, invited her to sing with Betty McGlown, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard.[4]

Ross took classes in millinery, design, sewing, and pattern making since, at the time, she hoped to become a fashion designer. She also took cosmetology and modeling classes and made extra money as a hairdresser. She worked in the Hudson’s Department Store as one of the first African-American employees allowed to work outside of the kitchen. In January 1962, Diana Ross graduated from high school.[5]

The Supremes

In 1960, Diana Ross and the other Primettes participated in a talent competition in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. They won they competition and decided to audition for Motown Records.[6] Berry Gordy overheard their audition, particularly Diana Ross singing the song “There Goes My Baby,” and made them perform the tune again. When he discovered their ages, he requested the Primettes to return after graduating high school.[7] Ross persuaded the Primettes to return to the Motown headquarters every day to offer assistance like background vocals or hand claps. The group replaced Betty McGlown with Barbara Martin in late 1960 and, in January 1961, Gordy offered to sign the group if they changed their name. Florence Ballard chose the name the “Supremes.” The other girls did not like the name and Diana feared others would mistake them for a male song group.[8] On January 15, 1961, the Supremes signed with Gordy and Motown recording studio. In 1962, the quartet shrunk to a trio when Barbara Martin left. Their first hit debuted in 1963 called “When the Lovelight Starts Shinning Through His Eyes” and Ross became the official lead singer by the end of the year. “Where Did Our Love Go” became their first #1 hit single. The Supremes sang 10 #1 hit songs between August 1964 to May 1967. Ross and Gordy became romantically involved in 1965. In July 1967, Gordy fired Ballard and hired Patty LaBelle while renaming the group Diana Ross & the Supremes. This allowed them to charge for solo-artist prices for performances and the group appeared on television several times. Gordy’s demands on Ross caused her to develop an eating disorder, anorexia nervosa.[9]

Solo Career Beginnings

Diana Ross performed alone on television beginning in 1968. In July 1969, Gordy decided Ross should leave the group and she started to record her own songs. On January 14, 1970, Ross performed with the Supremes for the last time in Las Vegas, Nevada. In May, Diana released her now world famous, self-titled debut album, including the song “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” It became her first #1 solo single.[10]

Diana Ross always stood out from the other Supremes singers, so it is no wonder Berry Gordy chose to separate her from the group to pursue a solo career.

Ross then participated in a solo television special with The Jackson 5, wrote the soundtrack to her first film called Lady Sings the Blues, and produced a duet album with Marvin Gaye. According to her biography, in January 1971, Ross married Robert Ellis Silberstein, the music executive, before giving birth to a daughter she produced with Gordy in August. Silberstein and Ross produced two more daughters in 1972 and 1975.

Ross co-hosted the 46th Academy Awards in April 1974, the first African-American woman to do so. She released several more albums and continued to appear on television shows. She released her most successful album, Diana, in 1980. She wanted to leave Motown and the label only offered $250,000USD as a severance deal, despite Ross earning millions for the record company. On May 20, 1981, Ross signed a seven-year contract with RCA for $20 million and gave her complete control over her albums.[11]

Diana Ross, Actress

Diana Ross portrayed legendary singer Billie Holiday in her first film entitled Lady Sings the Blues. She received critical acclaim after it opened in October 1972 and was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.[12] In 1975, she starred in Mahogany and designed costumes for the film. Ross featured as Dorothy in Motown’s film adaptation of the successful Broadway musical The Wiz, the African-American remake of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Ross also starred in the 1993 made-for-television movie Out of Darkness.[13]

Return to Singing and Later Career

Diana Ross released her first album with RCA in October 1981, Why Do Fools Fall in Love, which sold over one million copies. Ross began a production company called Anaid Productions, investing in real-estate, and touring the U.S. She released four more albums between 1981 and 1988 before deciding not to renew her contract with RCA. Ross returned to Motown Records when Gordy offered her part-ownership in the company. Her next four albums did not do well in the U.S., but were popular abroad.[14]

Ross continued to release albums and perform live throughout the 1990s. She reunited with Cindy Birdsong and Mary Wilson for a television special in March 1983. In June 2000, The Return to Love tour began, but never finished due to lack of ticket sales. Ross entered into a rehabilitation center in 2002 and then commenced and canceled a solo tour of North America. In December, Ross was arrested and jailed briefly for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and decided to leave the limelight for two years.

Ross began performing again in 2004 with a live tour and continued to perform at festivals during the decade. In February 2012, she received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. U.S. President Barack Obama honored Diana Ross with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on November 22, 2012.[15]

References

Bibliography


Ross, D. (2002). Diana Ross: Going Back. New York: Rizzoli International Publications.

Ross, D. (1993). Secrets of a Sparrow: Memoirs. New York: Villard Books. 
 Taraborrelli, R. J. (2007). Diana Ross: A Biography. New York: Kensington Publishing.


Footnotes

  1. Taraborrelli, 2007
  2. Ross, 2002
  3. Taraborrelli, 2007
  4. Ross, 2002
  5. Taraborrelli, 2007
  6. Taraborrelli, 2007
  7. Gordy, B. (1994). To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown. New York, NY: Warner Books.
  8. Ross, 2002
  9. Ross, 1993
  10. Ross, 2002
  11. Ross, 1993
  12. Taraborrelli, 2007
  13. Ross, 2002
  14. Taraborrelli, 2007
  15. Rhodan, M. (2016, November 22). President Obama Awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to Robert de Niro, Diana Ross and More. Time.[1]/

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U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom