Diana Ross - Singer/Actress
Created | Updated Aug 6, 2017
Female Entertainer of the 20th Century.
- Billboard Magazine
Diana Ross is an unusual artist, having achieved fame across a number of different musical genres. She was one of the most successful female singers of the 1960s and 1970s and the first artist to sing live via satellite.
Diane Ernestine Earle Ross was born on 26 March, 1944, in Detroit, Michigan, USA, the second of six children. Her parents were Fred Ross (born 4 July, 1920) and Ernestine Ross-Jordan (1916 - 84). A clerical error caused her birth certificate to state her first name as 'Diana', but during her childhood she used the name her parents had intended for her.
The whole family sang in the choir of their local Baptist church. When Diane was 15 years old, she formed the singing group The Primettes with her best friend Florence Ballard (1943 - 76) and two other friends, Mary Wilson and Barbara Martin.
Motown and The Supremes
When I'm told that The Supremes were the first beautiful, powerful, strong black women that people saw on their televisions or in a magazine, I just cherish it. I'll cherish it all my life.
- Diana Ross
Diane was introduced to Motown Records in 1961 by her neighbour Smokey Robinson. Barbara Martin left The Primettes just before the girls signed for Motown. Detroit State labour laws require proof of age before a minor can obtain employment, so it is possible Motown's clerical staff saw the birth certificate which stated her name as Diana. To avoid complications with contracts, it's possible that she decided to keep Diana as her stage name. Head of Motown Berry Gordy changed the name of the group to The Supremes.
..Because the Supremes' world-wide acceptance is greater than the other [Motown] artists, on them we will release only number-one records.
- Berry Gordy Jr, Motown's founder
The Supremes had ten singles which hit the number-one spot, making them the most successful female group of the 1960s. They guest-starred on The Ed Sullivan Show many times between 1964 and the end of the decade. As their popularity grew, it became clear that Ross was more than just the frontwoman; Gordy changed the name of the group to 'Diana Ross and The Supremes' in 1967 to take advantage of Diana's celebrity status. The trio released 'Love Child' in 1968, a heart-rending song which carried a deep social message and became one of the biggest-selling recordings in Motown's history.
It is not documented exactly when Gordy and Diana became lovers1. Gordy was married at the time and their personal relationship spanned decades, during which Diana married and divorced two other men. Even knowing their closeness, it is doubtful that Gordy would have risked his empire to promote someone who was untalented and undeserving. History has proved him correct; Diana was the star of the group2.
Two of Motown's biggest acts joined forces when Diana Ross and The Supremes teamed up with The Temptations at the end of the 1960s to record 'I'm Gonna Make You Love Me', a single released on the back of well-received television specials, Takin' Care of Business and Get It Together3 on Broadway. The Supremes with Diana as lead singer had two more number-one hits before Diana went solo in May 1970.
The decision to become a solo performer clearly paid off: despite her partnership with Ballard and Wilson throughout the decade, Diana is recognised as being 'one of the five mighty pop divas of the 1960s', the others being Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield and Martha Reeves.
The Jackson Five, a band consisting of five brothers with young Michael Jackson as the lead singer, were launched to superstardom in the 1970s on the back of a publicity stunt. Gordy persuaded Diana to introduce the brothers at a Hollywood party and on television as her own discovery. Diana has since dueted with Michael Jackson and they are close friends. Jackson wrote the song 'Dirty Diana' for her.
Diana the Solo Artist
In 1971, Diana spent four weeks at the top of the UK Singles Charts with her haunting rendition of 'I'm Still Waiting', taken from the LP of the same name. Also in 1971, she was the host of a TV special, Diana! She then took a five year break to raise a family, interspersing the sabbatical with duets with Marvin Gaye and the recording of an album of love songs.
Diana and Marvin
Long before there was a Charles and Diana, there was a Diana and Marvin. When Marvin Gaye got together with Diana, the resulting 1974 album Diana & Marvin was a best-seller which spawned two hit singles. They weren't physically together in the studio for the recordings because Diana was pregnant and Gaye was dealing with an addiction to cannabis. Later, joint projects were planned, but they were tragically thwarted by Gaye's murder in 1984.
In 1977, Diana won a special Tony award for her record-breaking one-woman comeback concert on Broadway and a TV special promoted her album An Evening with Diana Ross. Proving that she could re-invent herself for the disco age, the hit 'Love Hangover' endeared her to a new generation of fans. Her change of direction towards the disco sound provided an inspired choice. The 1980s started with the huge hit 'Upside Down', which topped the US chart for a month and reached number two in the UK.
Thanks to the potential for a double meaning, her next single, 'I'm Coming Out', established Diana as a gay icon. She was the biggest-selling female artist on the Motown label by 1981 and continued to duet with male artists. The title track from the film Endless Love with writer Lionel Richie is the biggest-selling record of her career to date, with over two million sales. It spent more than two months at the top of the US chart and also helped establish Richie's solo career away from The Commodores.
Diana chose to leave Motown in 1981 while she was at the top of her profession. She signed with RCA Records for North America and Capitol Records for the rest of the world, also forming her own production company. She sang the American national anthem at the Super Bowl in 1982 and performed a free open-air concert in New York's Central Park in a torrential storm in the summer of 1983. The Bee Gees wrote and produced 'Chain Reaction', giving Diana a UK number one hit in 1986. The video for this single probably inspired hundreds, if not thousands, of drag queens who love to dress as her.
In the early 1980s, a rags-to-riches story about the Supremes was made into a successful Broadway musical entitled Dreamgirls. Mary Wilson wrote of Diana's 'betrayal' of the other Supremes in her 1986 book Dreamgirl: My Life As A Supreme; Mary and Diana had a 'love-hate' relationship, described by both as 'typical sibling rivalry'. The first ghostwriter for Dreamgirls withdrew from the project when it was discovered that Mary was not going to include the two instances of Diana's generosity towards Mary when she was down on her luck and desperately needed money. She wanted to concentrate on dishing the dirt.
The Supremes were inducted into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.
Diana Ross had a very unique sound - once you heard her you know it's her, you see. She doesn't sound like other singers.
- Motown songwriter Eddie Holland.
Return To Motown
When Diana returned to Motown in 1989, she released a recording of her live opera performances alongside Placido Domingo and José Carreras. In 1993, Diana was listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most successful female singer of all time. She has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one jointly with The Supremes and one for her solo career.
In 1994, Diana started off the football World Cup in the USA, laughingly missing a penalty in front of the world's television audience. The following year she was the executive music producer for Diana Ross Live! The Lady Sings...Jazz & Blues: Stolen Moments, which also starred Diana's daughter Rhonda. In early 1996, Diana performed the halftime show at the Super Bowl.
Tragedy struck when Diana's brother Arthur 'T-Boy' Ross, 47, was found dead on 22 April, 1996. Arthur had been a songwriter for Motown in the early 1970s, writing 'I Want You' for Marvin Gaye. He had a solo album, Changes, which was released in 1979. T-Boy and his wife, Patricia Ann Robinson, 54, were found bound and gagged in the basement of an Oak Park, Michigan, home after neighbours complained to police of a foul smell emanating from the house. A post-mortem determined both died of suffocation and the bodies had been undiscovered for several weeks. The Ross family offered a $25,000 reward for information about the crime but the double murder remains unsolved.
Berry Gordy Jr, as Diana's manager, was responsible for getting Diana the part of the tragic jazz singer Billie Holiday (1915-59) in the 1972 film Lady Sings the Blues. The film was a smash hit and won Diana the Best Newcomer award at the 1973 Golden Globes. The soundtrack album topped the chart and to date is Diana's only solo number-one album.
Following this success, Gordy instigated Diana's lead part in the film Mahogany, taking on the role of director himself. It lacked the critical acclaim that Lady Sings The Blues had won, although it was popular at the box-office and the song 'Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To?)' was nominated for an Oscar. Diana performed the song live at the Oscar ceremony via satellite, becoming the first artist to do this.
Venturing back into the acting world, Diana (then in her mid-30s) took on the role of Dorothy in an all-black musical production of The Wizard of Oz called The Wiz. It didn't recoup its costs and the film bombed. The film was a moderate critical success, though it didn't prevent the film being Oscar-nominated in four categories and Diana herself nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Actress.
Diana was expected to play the singer in the film The Bodyguard, but the part eventually went to Whitney Houston instead. In 1994, Diana starred in the television movie Out Of Darkness, playing an institutionalised schizophrenic. Diana also starred in the made-for-television movie Double Platinum in 1999, which also featured singer and actress Brandy as the daughter who had been abandoned by Diana's character.
Diana the Author
Diana published her autobiography Secrets Of A Sparrow in 1993 and followed its success with Upside Down, a heart-rending memoir describing her rollercoaster rise to superstardom and her failed marriages, battles with alcoholism and menopause. Yet another biography, entitled Going Back, followed in 2004.
Highs and Lows
In 2000, Billboard Magazine named Diana their 'Female Entertainer of the 20th Century'.
The Supremes Reunion Tour, of which Diana was the only original member4, was cancelled in 2000 due to poor ticket sales. Undaunted, her 2001 album Love From Diana Ross was swiftly followed by Anthology, which was stated by critics to be her best work for years. Diana was released from her Motown contract in 2002.
In 2002 Diana booked into a rehab clinic in California to deal with long-running problems with drug addiction and alcohol abuse.
In 2003 the Capitol Gold Legends Awards gave Diana the 'Legendary Female' award.
In February 2004, Diana was sentenced to two days in jail, 36 hours of counselling and one year probation after pleading guilty to a drunk-driving charge in Tucson, Arizona, in 2002.
Just weeks after serving her time, Diana made a triumphant return to the stage in Belfast.
In 2005, Diana got together with Irish band Westlife to record a new version of her hit 'When You Tell Me That You Love Me' for Westlife's album Face To Face. The track was also released as a single which made the top ten in the UK.
In 2005 Diana recorded a solo version of 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' on the soundtrack of Disney's animated comedy Chicken Little.
Diana the Diva
With her flamboyant dress sense and diva status, Diana has ensured that she has never lacked press attention. Like all the best divas, Diana constantly made headline news with her colourful love-life and clashes with airport security and traffic police. When she set off a metal detector at an airport in 1999, Diana was so incensed by the frisking she received from a female officer that she grabbed the woman's breast in retaliation. Diana was detained for five hours but released after being cautioned.
Diana had breast augmentation surgery in 1990, boosting her vital statistics to 34C-25-35.
When she is on tour, Diana travels with some 20 people in her entourage, including nine band members, two sound engineers, a lights engineer, a wardrobe mistress, two backliners and a bodyguard. Combined with the local crews, (drivers, catering, stagehands, riggers, local security etc), approximately 40 people are necessary for her show.
Relationships and Children
In April 1971, Diana married businessman Robert Silberstein but they were divorced by 1976. Although the birth certificate for Diana's daughter, Rhonda Suzanne Ross Kendrick carried the surname 'Silberstein', her father was in fact Berry Gordy Jr.
Diana delighted the tabloids by having an affair with Gene Simmons, the bass player from glam rock group Kiss.
In 1986, Diana married the Norwegian shipping magnate Arne Naess Jr. This marriage was unconventional, as they lived on different continents and they separated in 1999, divorcing in 2000. Naess died on 13 January, 2004, in a climbing accident in South Africa.
Diana's children are:
- Rhonda Suzanne - born 14 August, 1971
- Tracee Joy - born 29 October, 1972 (daughter of Silberstein)
- Chudney Lane - born 4 November, 1975 (daughter of Silberstein)
- Ross Arne - born 7 October, 1987 (son of Naess)
- Evan Olaf - born 26 August, 1988 (son of Naess)
Diana Ross has led a remarkable life, her singing talents bringing her fame before she was barely out of her teens. Her complicated private life provided her with the blessing of five healthy children whom she adores. Tragedies during her life, notably the deaths of her brother and sister-in-law, her best friend, and the father of her two sons, have taken their toll. Her sparkling career has been up and down and back up again. All the while her popularity with the public has never waned, her fans adore 'Miss Ross' and she keeps coming back to give them more.