Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Ross, Diana

A diva of pop, soul, disco and the Motown sound, Diana Ross is one of the most prolific talents to come out of Detroit. Ross is a 12-time Grammy-nominated singer, Oscar-nominated actress, and producer. With a total of six number-one hits and 12 Billboard top 10 singles in the U.S., she has recorded 57 albums. In total, Ross has sold more than 100 million albums both as a member of the Motown group, The Supremes, and as a solo artist.

Diana Ross was born in Detroit on March 26, 1944. Her mother named her Diane but a typo on the birth certificate led to the name Diana. She spent her teenage years with her family in the low-income Brewster-Douglas Projects. Fellow Motown star Smokey Robinson was a friend from her former North End neighborhood. While attending Cass Technical High School, Ross joined a music group named the Primettes with girls from her neighborhood. The Primettes were a sister group to the male group the Primes, later to be known as The Temptations. The girl group consisted of Ross, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard and Betty McGlown. Barbara Martin replaced McGlown then left the group in 1962. 

Smokey Robinson brought the Primettes to Motown Records and introduced them to its founder, Berry Gordy. After they finished high school, Ross, Wilson, Martin and Ballard signed a contract with Motown and adopted the name the Supremes. Gordy made Ross the lead singer of the group and in 1967, Ballard, the other potential lead vocal, was replaced by Cindy Birdsong. That same year, the group’s name changed to Diana Ross and the Supremes indicating Ross’ role as the center of the trio.

After “Let Me Go the Right Way” became the Supremes’ first song to make national charts, the group joined the Motortown, or Motown, Revue. Some of their greatest hits were “Baby Love” (1964), “Stop in the Name of Love” (1965), and “Can’t Hurry Love” (1966). Their success was unprecedented, with the Supremes recording 10 number one hit singles between August 1964 and May 1967. By 1970, however, Ross left the group to pursue a solo career.

Diana Ross, her debut solo album, showcased “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” which would go on to become Ross’ first number one hit without the group. In 1972, Motown, produced a biographical film about Billie Holiday called Lady Sings the Blues. Ross was well received in her role as Holiday and the film garnered spectacular reviews and a Golden Globe Award. Five years later, she stared as Dorothy in the Broadway play The Wiz, an African American spinoff of The Wizard of Oz

“Upside Down,” a song off the album Diana, was released in 1980. It marked Ross’s fifth single to top the charts and was massively popular overseas as well. Her most successful album as a solo artist to date, Diana reached number two on the Billboard 200 chart, and remained on the chart for 52 weeks. Throughout her solo career, Ross has continued to perform on film, television and stage.  

In 1980, Ross left Motown and signed a $20 million contract with RCA, receiving at the time the largest amount of money ever paid to a single artist. While with RCA, Ross produced several gold-certified albums and a number of hit singles. In 1983, the Supremes trio returned to the limelight together for the TV special “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, and Forever” performing one song.

Ross sang at Super Bowl XXX in 1996 and presented at the MTV Video Music Awards three years later. She proposed a Supremes reunion tour in 2000, but Wilson and Birdsong declined because of contract disagreements. The tour continued with two replacements, although it was cancelled after its first shows due to poor sales. 

Among her accolades, Diana Ross has sung for the Queen of England and in 2007, she has two stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and the Kennedy Center Honors Committee honored Ross for her influence on American culture. Diana Ross is still very active musically, releasing records and touring in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. She also has five children. 



Diana Ross on the cover of Life Magazine, 1972 - 2012.005.038

Diana Ross and The Supremes with Ed Sullivan, 1968 - 2011.005.005

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