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 ever come out of Detroit. Ross is a twelve-time Grammy and Oscar-nominated singer, actress and producer. With a total of 18 #1 hits in America, she has recorded 57 studio albums. In total, Ross has sold more than 100 million records 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. She spent her teenage years with her family in the low-income Brewster-Douglas Projects, where she met neighbor and fellow Motown star Smokey Robinson. While attending Cass Technical High School, Ross formed 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 McClown. Barbara Martin later replaced McClown but eventually she left the group altogether.

Smokey Robinson brought the Primettes to Motown Records and introduced them to its founder, Berry Gordy. After they finished high school, Ross, Wilson and Ballard signed a contract with Motown and adopted the name ‘the Supremes.’ Gordy also made Ross the lead singer of the group. In 1967, Ballard was replaced by Cindy Birdsong. That same year, the group’s name changed to Diana Ross and the Supremes in order to indicate 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 Motor Town Revue tour. Some of their greatest hits together 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 #1 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. 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’ 16th solo hit and was massively popular overseas as well. Her most successful album as a solo artist to date, Diana held number two on the Billboard 200s chart for three 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. The group only performed one song and tensions between Ross and Wilson were evident onstage.

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, allegedly, they were to receive only a fraction of what Ross would earn. 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, 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 US, Canada, and Europe. She also has five children.

The legacy of the Diana Ross and the Supremes lives on. Only the Beatles hold the record for more hit singles. Ross was arguably the most famous female singer of the rock era, and according to the Guinness Book of World Records, she is the most successful female artist of the last century. Ross also has two stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Diana Ross will always be remembered not only for her phenomenal musical talents, but as a strong female legend worldwide.



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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