This Diana Ross biography starts with her life before she was a
Supreme--or even "Diana Ross." If we want to catch up to the present,
we'd better get crackin'!
(For more about the group as a whole, please see my Supremes biography.)
A future star was born on March 26, 1944. The second of six kids, Diane Ernestine Ross grew up in Detroit, a carefree tomboy who loved her mom but couldn't connect with her distant dad. Her family eventually moved into the city's Brewster Projects. There, she met her neighbor William Robinson, a singer on the rise whose group had already released a record.
Diane's budding interest in music reached out and touched two girls named Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard. Together, with Betty McGlown, they formed the Primettes. With Barbara Martin in Betty's place, they signed with Motown Records as the Supremes in 1961. A sweet 16 indeed.
Although I'm crunching events together, I hope this Diana Ross biography doesn't make the Supremes' rise sound too rapid! It actually took three years for the now-three-girl group to go anywhere. After "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes," triumph glimmered at the end of the tunnel. Five #1 smashes from 1964 to 1965 finally sent them flying through.
Under the brightest lights stood one Diana Ross. Compared to Florence Ballard's more rousing delivery, her voice sounded whiny. But Diana's enticing delicacy was poppy, more likely to engage the (white) masses. Over time, her vocals seized the public's fancy as much as she seized Berry Gordy's.
In 1967, Diana Ross and the Supremes became the group's new name. With Cindy Birdsong taking over for Florence, the trio stayed together until its lead bid the group farewell in 1970.
Her notoriously vast ambition paid off. Lyricist-composer spouses Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson handed Diana Ross songs that turned into new Motown standards under her care. Atop that foundation, she created more extravagant concerts that offered eyefuls as well as earfuls of excitement.
Visuals, of course, dominate the next chapter of the Diana Ross biography: movies.
As jazz songstress Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues, Diana Ross surprised critics with her film acting debut, remarkable ticket and soundtrack sales, and an Oscar nomination.
Mahogany didn't impress, but her clothes designs for this fable allowed her a different creative outlet.
An adaptation of Broadway's The Wiz also flopped. But like the other films, it gave Motown Productions a long-term foothold in the entertainment industry.
Diana Ross hadn't stopped singing on albums. Michael Masser songs like "Touch Me in the Morning" and "Do You Know Where You're Going To" kept Diana Ross music alive on the charts. Diana's diana also made a splash with the disco beats of "Upside Down" and "I'm Coming Out."
Then, her duet with Lionel Richie, "Endless Love," blew her previous sales records out of the water.
Diana Ross seemed unstoppable, even after she left Motown in 1981 for RCA and more producing powers. However, her success slowed as that decade closed. In 1989, she returned to Motown and, later, the pop stylings that had first launched her career.
It may not matter how the Diana Ross biography will ultimately end. The skinny, driven girl with the big eyes and big dream has already reached her destination.
A Diana Ross discography that spans her classic solo stint at Motown appears
If you prefer the diva's humbler Motown oldies roots, click here for the Supremes discography.
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