Tuesday, September 27, 2022
Diana Ross
By Yussuf J. Simmonds (Managing Editor)
Published October 8, 2009

Diana Ross


Diana Ross and the Supremes



Diana Ross, the Diva

Diana Ross as Billie Holiday

Diana Ross as Mahogany

By Yussuf J. Simmonds



“Without her, there would not have been many other divas; she established the standard.”


Diana Ross became famous as part of the singing sensation of the Motown Sound known as the Supremes.  She introduced the Jackson 5 to the world and then became a solo superstar.    During her career, she teamed up with other superstars including Marvin Gaye, and Lionel Richie.  But where did it all start?  She came out of the Brewster Housing Projects in Detroit, Michigan – where she had moved to at the age of 14 – and never looked back, the ageless wonder of songs, music and movies.

Born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1944, the daughter of a soldier and a schoolteacher (Fred and Ernestine Ross), She was the second of six children and is of Cherokee ancestry.  Ross attended Cass High School in Detroit and graduated in 1962; her career goal was to be a fashion designer.  Prior to her graduation, she began singing in the choir of a local Baptist church.  Then at age 15, along with friends Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard and Barbara Martin, she formed a quartet singing group, the Primettes.

In 1961, the group came to the attention of Motown Founder, Berry Gordy, who welcomed them to the Motown (formerly Hitsville, U.S.A.) family after an audition.  After Martin left the quartet, the remaining three remained as a trio with Motown and were renamed the Supremes.  Later on, Gordy made Ross the lead singer, renaming the group Diana Ross and the Supremes to build her name as a future solo artist, a move he had previously done with other groups.  The name change also resulted in the group’s “crossover” effect to the pop charts.

The group hit number one on the chart with “Where Did Our Love Go” and between 1964 and 1967, they had ten number-one hit singles in the United States and Great Britain (then the hub of the European “hit” market).  The group remained together from 1961 to 1969.  Between 1964 and 1969, Ross and the Supremes appeared 17 times on the Ed Sullivan Show, the venue that showcased artistic talent during the sixties.  There were a number of television specials that spotlighted Ross including TCB and G.I.T. on Broadway which seemed to portend her future solo career.

Another change was made when Gordy replaced Ballard with Cindy Birdsong (formerly with Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles).  During the 1960s, the Supremes and then Diana Ross and the Supremes became the most successful female vocal group in America and the second most successful group worldwide.  Ross helped place Motown on the musical map before branching out on a solo career at the end of the decade.  


 Immediately, Ross came out with “Someday We’ll Be Together,” which also doubled as the Diana Ross and the Supremes finale.  About the same time she introduced Motown’s newest act the Jackson 5 at the Hollywood Palace.  Her final appearance as a member of the trio was at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas in January, 1970.  Next, Ross came out with her first solo album, Diana Ross, featuring Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, which was an international hit and her first number one pop single, gold record as a solo artist, for which she also earned a Grammy Award nomination.

 In 1971, Ross married Robert Ellis Silberstein; the marriage produced two daughters, Tracee (Ellis Ross of television’s Girlfriends) and Chudney Ross.  She also had a daughter with Gordy, Rhonda, who was raised as Silberstein’s.  They divorced in 1977.

Her next two albums, Everything is Everything and Surrender, were released the following year.  They contained two number one hits, I’m Still Waiting and Remember Me, respectively.  Then Ross hosted her first television special, Diana; her guests included the Jackson 5 and Bill Cosby.

Motown relocated to Hollywood and Gordy delved into the movie business.  His first movie was a biographical film of Billie Holiday, titled Lady Sings the Blues starring Diana Ross as the jazz icon, Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor.  It was also Ross’ first film, and she gave a stellar performance for which she received an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award nomination as best actress in 1973.  She won the latter.  The soundtrack album also scored big on the Billboard charts; it eventually became one of Ross’ best-selling albums of all time. 

 The next couple of years, Ross continued making musical hits such as Love Hangover (a Grammy nomination), Touch Me in the Morning and a duet album with the late Motown superstar, Marvin Gaye, titled Diana & Marvin.  Then in 1975, she returned to the screen in another Gordy film, Mahogany, again with Billy Dee Williams.  Gordy directed the film and according to reports, Ross and he had a falling-out during the filming and he had to use a substitute in order to finish the film. After its release, some film critics chastised Gordy for the falling-out and claimed Ross’ absence led to a lesser-finished product.  They did not rate it as high as Lady Sings the Blues.  However, a single from the soundtrack album, Do You Know Where You’re Going To, did reach the top spot on the pop-hits chart. 

 In 1976, Billboard magazine named her “Female Entertainer of the Century” and in 1977, she won a Tony Award for her one-woman show, An Evening with Diana Ross.  During that period, Ross was one of the most successful female artists who had crossed over into film and television.  Her next film was another for Gordy/Motown production, The Wiz.  Though Gordy had preferred Stephanie Mills (who had done the stage version of the proposed film) over Ross, she (Ross) lobbied the Universal Pictures and got the green-light over Mills despite Gordy.  It had a stellar lineup of Black talent including, Lena Horne, Richard Pryor, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross (no relation to Diana Ross) and Michael Jackson.  The movie was released in 1978 and was a financial failure.  It grossed millions less than it took to make it, however it did garner four Academy Award nominations.


 As Ross winded down her career with Motown (1979/1980), she made two albums, Diana and the Boss, which became her first recognized gold-certified album.  It was written by (Nicholas) Ashford and (Valerie) Simpson.  They contained many of Ross’ hit top rated singles including Upside Down, I’m Coming Out, It’s My House, No One Gets the Prize and the album’s title, the Boss.   The album, Diana, also became platinum-certified, stayed on the Billboard chart for three weeks and sold over three million units worldwide. Ross finished out 1980 with the theme from It’s My Turn and the following year, she did a duet with Richie, Endless Love, named for the film for which it was scored.  It was her final act on the Motown label and it was nominated for an Academy Award. 

Ross left Motown for RCA Records and a record $20 million contract as her duet with Richie hit the number one spot.  She became the first female artist in music history to have six singles at number one on Billboard’s Hot 100.  Her debut album with RCA was Why Do Fools Fall in Love; it was released in 1981 and she sang the national anthem at the Super Bowl in 1982.   Then two years later, Ross and her former Supremes colleagues teamed up to perform for television’s Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever.  There were numerous mishaps during the rehearsal which were subsequently removed from the final cut and Motown 25 aired as planned on schedule. 

Her next big project was a concert in Central Park, New York.  It attracted an estimated crowd of about 800,000.  Because of a heavy downpour of rain, it was postponed for one day.  The next day, the crowd generated major disaster.  There was a rampage of groups of young men, assaults and attacks during and after the concert; in the end, the tragedy triggered lawsuits against the city for failing to provide adequate security and some of the criticism was directed at Ross claiming bad planning and poor publicity.  In addition, Ross hesitated to pay for a playground that was part of the reason for the concert, citing lack of revenue from the concert. But after three years she resolved the dispute by personally paying for the playground, the Diana Ross Playground.

In October 1985, Ross wedded Arne Naess, Jr., a Norwegian shipping millionaire with whom she has two sons, Ross Arne Naess and Evan Ross. (They were divorced in February 2000). 

Throughout the rest of the 1980s, Ross continued recording albums with numerous hit singles with RCA.  She had Grammy-nominated hits including Muscles; a tribute to Gaye, who had died in 1984; joined a multitude of artists to do We Are The World, written by Jackson and Richie, and conducted by Quincy Jones; and released a gold-certificated album, All the Great Hits-Diana Ross Anthology.  

She left RCA in 1989 and returned to Motown.  By then Gordy had sold Motown and she also became part-owner.  Ross released her first hit for Motown in eight years, Workin’ Overtime.  During the 1990s a new breed of artists and genre of music arrived on the scene and Ross receded somewhat in the background.  However, she still made songs though fewer and farther in between.  She did a duet with Al B. Sure, No Matter What You Do; it shot to number four on the charts.

During her second stint with Motown, Ross did more concert appearances than before and in 1993, she wrote her first book, a children’s book, titled When You Dream and was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most successful female artist in history with  eighteen number-one hits.  In 1994, Ross returned to acting in a television movie, Out of Darkness.  She played a woman suffering from schizophrenia; the movie drew critical acclaim and she scored her third Golden Globe nomination.  And two years later, she performed the halftime show during Super Bowl 1996. 

Ross has also had her share of setbacks and misfortune. Her brother, Arthur, was murdered in Detroit, and despite a $25,000 reward, the case remains unsolved.  She and Mary Wilson are the only surviving members of Supremes.  While navigating through an airport in 1999, she allegedly ran afoul of the airport security guard and was arrested.  It was quickly resolved.


 In 1999, Ross co-starred with R&B singer/actress, Brandy in a television movie, Double Platinum and received the BET Walk of Fame Award.  The following year, she received the Heroes Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.  And ten days after the September 11-attack, she sang God Bless America at Shea Stadium, New York.

 Ross was arrested in Tucson, Arizona, in 2002 for driving under the influence and after pleading no contest, she received a short sentence which included counseling and probation.  Then she entered a drug and alcohol rehab center prior to her starting her summer tour.  Her ex-husband, Naess was killed in 2004 in a climbing accident in South Africa. 

 Her music continues to influence the new generation of artists and their genre.  Her song, I’m Coming Out, was used in the Princess Diaries in 2001 and in Maid in Manhattan in 2002.   Since the beginning of Ross’ career, as a member of the Supremes and as a solo artist, she has sold more than 100 million records. Also as a Supreme member, she led the group to earn 12 number-one and 18 top-ten songs.  Ross has been nominated for 12 Grammy Awards, was both inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Foundation as a member of the Supremes and won the Legendary Female award from the Capitol Gold Legends Awards in 2003.  She also has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – one as a solo artist and the other as a member of the Supremes.  She then received the Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award and has been one of only seven Black women to have received Academy Award nomination for best actress… she was nominated for her very first movie.

The year 2007 brought Ross many “ups” and a devastating blow.  She was presented BET’s Lifetime Achievement Award by singer Alicia Keys along with her own five children; it was followed by a tribute of songs by Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu and Chaka Khan covering several of her hits. She used her acceptance speech to lambast the current generation’s use of profanity and vulgarity in their music.  Later that year (December), she received the prestigious Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Honors Award. Several of her colleagues again performed tributes in her honor; they included Vanessa Williams, Smokey Robinson, Terence Howard and Yolanda Adams.  A month before, her father had passed away at the age of 87.

The death of Michael Jackson on June 25, 2009 dealt a devastating blow to Ross.  She was one of the individuals who had literally nursed his career into super stardom and his closeness to her was demonstrated in his will where he named her as the secondary guardian for his children after his mother, Katherine Jackson.  Ross took his death so hard that she did not attend the funeral – preferring instead to grieve in private. 

Finally, she is scheduled to perform at a Dutch concert, Symphonica in Rosso in October 2009, in Arnhem, the Netherlands.

Categories: Legends

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