Monday, December 10, 2012

FOCUS ON: DIANA ROSS


There is probably no singer who had such a major impact on me than Diana Ross. I think she's the perfect pop vocalist who is also a stunningly beautiful, glamorous goddess. Perhaps that might sound a little overboard but it's honestly how I felt ever since the very first time I heard and saw this dynamic entertainer. She is the true definition of an all-around performer who has found great success with everything she has attempted, whether first becoming a member of one of the biggest all-female singing groups of all-time to becoming one of the most successful female solo artists of all-time to earning an Oscar nomination for her first film role to performing a free concert in Central Park with the proceeds going to build a children's playground in New York City. Although Miss Ross has earned a reputation (fairly or not) for being a bit of a "diva" but that certainly does not diminish her great talent. But the real reason for her success is that you can sense her pure joy in sharing her gifts to the world and you can't help to be moved and transformed by the power of  Diana Ross.

Diana Ross was born on March 26, 1944 in Detroit, Michigan. Her parents, Ernestine and Fred actually named her "Diane" but a typo on her birth certificate has her listed as "Diana" but she went by Diane at home and school. In her early teens, Diana"s first love was fashion design and she studied at Cass Tech which was a four year prep-school. However, she soon became distracted by music as her school friend, Mary Wilson invited her to join a female singing group, The Primettes. Milton Jenkins, the manager of the male vocal group, The Primes wanted to put together a type of "sister act" with Florence Ballard and Betty McGlown filling out the quartet.

After The Primettes won a singing contest, the next step was a recording contract and they wanted to sign with the new local music company, Motown. Diana called her neighbor, William "Smokey" Robinson who was writing songs for the label, to help get the group an audition with Berry Gordy, the head of Motown. Although Gordy liked what he heard, he felt the teens were too young and wanted them to come back after they finished high school. Betty McGlown dropped out of the group and was replaced by Barbara Martin but the girls were determined to impress Gordy as they would hang out at the studios everyday after school. Eventually, The Primettes performed background vocals for several acts before Gordy finally agreed to sign the group in 1961 but he insisted they change their name. They were given a list of suggestions with Florence deciding on "The Supremes" although Diana thought it sounded a bit too masculine.

By 1962, Barbara Martin decided to leave group with The Supremes now remaining a trio.They released eight singles with none of them reaching anywhere near the top forty before The Supremes had a minor breakthrough with "When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes" which made it to number twenty-three on the pop chart.

"Where Did Our Love Go" was written by the in-house team of Holland-Dozier-Holland and originally given to The Marvelettes but they passed on it. The Supremes actually didn't like it much better but recorded it anyway as the team had written their previous charting song. It was a good thing they did as it became the group's first number one song in 1964. Their next four singles, "Baby Love", "Come See About Me", "Stop! In The Name of Love" and "Back In My Arms Again" all went to number one and were also written by Holland-Dozier-Holland.

By 1965, The Supremes were a major international female r&b act that brought glamour and polish to pop music. Many other hit songs followed but.previously each member in the group would share lead singing but after their success, Gordy decided that Ross would now be the official lead singer for The Supremes which left the other two less than thrilled, most especially Ballard. She began to drink excessively, gained weight, missed performances and her relationship with Ross deteriorated. Gordy decided to change the name of the group to "Diana Ross & The Supremes" in 1967 which enraged Ballard even further. Soon, Gordy had had enough and fired Florence Ballard later that year and replaced her with Cindy Birdsong, a singer with Patti LaBelle and The Bluebells. Ballard attempted to start a solo career for several years but died in 1976 at the age of thirty-two of heart disease.

Diana Ross & The Supremes continued on but Gordy had plans for Ross to become a solo artist. After the single, "Someday We'll Be Together" became this line-up's twelfth and final number one hit in 1969 and one last concert in Las Vegas, Diana Ross left The Supremes in 1970. Jean Terrell would replace her as lead vocalist of The Supremes.

Ms Ross released her self-titled debut album later in 1970 that featured the now classic "Reach Out And Touch (Somebody's Hand)" and the smash remake of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"  that went to number one on the pop and r&b charts. More hits followed including "Remember Me", "Touch me In The Morning", "Love Hangover" and "The Boss".

In 1972, Ross starred in her first film role as jazz vocalist, Billie Holiday in "Lady Sings The Blues". The film was a box-office smash and her performance won her a Golden Globe Award and she was nominated for an Academy Award. She followed this up with "Mahogany" in 1975. The film about a fashion designer who becomes a successful model was another hit and featured the theme song, "Do You Know Where You're Going To" which went to number one on the pop chart and was nominated for an Oscar. Her next part was as Dorothy in the musical, "The Wiz", an African-American version of "The Wizard of Oz" in 1978. Ross was woefully miscast and the film became a costly failure with this putting an unfortunate end to her movie career.

Tension between Ross and Gordy had grown considerably, most especially during the filming of "Mahogany", so after her 1980 album, "Diana" (which was produced by Chic's, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards and became her biggest solo recording success) and "Endless Love" (her world-wide number one hit duet with Lionel Ritchie for the film of the same name), Ross left Motown to go to RCA Records for a twenty million dollar record deal in 1981.

While at the label, Ross had several successful recordings such as her cover of "Why Do Fools Fall In Love", "Swept Away", "Eaten Alive" and "Missing You" but it did not come close to matching her glory days at Motown. In 1988, Ross decided not to renew her contract with RCA and after making amends with Berry Gordy, re-signed with Motown Records although he had recently sold the company. She recorded four albums on the label but sales were disappointing and she left the label in 1999.

In 2006, Ross had two albums released on EMI; the first was the jazz album, "Blue" which was recorded around 1971-72 and was supposed to follow-up her successful "Lady Sings The Blues" soundtrack record but Gordy decided to shelve the project. The next was "I Love You", her first studio album in seven years and her last to date. It features a collection of love song covers including Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and Marvin Gaye's "I Want You" (co-written by Ross's late brother, Arthur).

Diana Ross was inducted in to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with The Supremes in 1988, was the recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor in 2007, won a long overdue Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award (her only Grammy ever!) earlier this year and has sold well over one hundred million records during her career.

Ms Ross has been married twice. She wed Robert Silberstein, a music executive in 1971 and they had three children, Rhonda, Tracey and Chudney although it was publicly revealed recently that Rhonda was actually the daughter of Berry Gordy. Silberstein and Ross divorced in 1977. She met Arne Naess, Jr., a Norwegian businessman on a trip to the Bahamas in 1985. They married the following year and had two sons, Ross and Evan. The couple separated in 2000 and Naess died in a skiing accident in 2004.


These are just a few of my favorite Diana Ross tunes:

"Ain't No Mountain High Enough" - Diana Ross (1970)

"The Boss" - Diana Ross (1979)

"I'm Coming Out" - Diana Ross (1980)

"Swept Away" - Diana Ross (1984)

"Missing You" - Diana Ross (1984)

Here is some early footage of The Supremes performing live "Back In My Arms Again":


This is Miss Ross performing her hit, "Love Hangover" live on The Midnight Special back in '76:



This is a great music video for the 1985 song, "Chain Reaction" (written by The Bee Gees) that revived the classic "Supremes" sound. She looks amazingly just like she does in The Supremes video above and it even seems like Miss Ross is wearing the same wig:














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