Diana Ross (born March 26, 1944) is an American vocalist, recording artist and actress. Ross has a soprano vocal range.
Ross first rose to fame as a founding member and lead singer of the Motown group The Supremes during the 1960s. After leaving the group in 1970, Ross began a solo career that has included successful ventures into film and Broadway. She received a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for her role as Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues (1972), for which she won a Golden Globe award. She has won seven American Music Awards, and won a Tony Award for her one-woman show, An Evening with Diana Ross, back in 1977.
In 1976, Billboard magazine named her the “Female Entertainer of the Century.” In 1993, the Guinness Book of World Records declared Diana Ross the most successful female music artist in history due to her success in the United States and United Kingdom for having more hits than any female artist in the charts with a career total of 70 hit singles. Diana Ross has sold more than 100 million records worldwide. In 1988, Ross was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as member of the Supremes alongside Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson.
Ross is one of the few recording artists to have two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame—one as a solo artist and the other as a member of The Supremes. In December 2007, she received the Kennedy Center Honors. In 2012, Diana was finally honored by NARAS with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in her 50th year in the music business.
Diana Ross was born at Hutzel Women’s Hospital in Detroit, Michigan on March 26, 1944. The second-eldest child of Ernestine (née Moten) (January 27, 1916 – October 9, 1984), a schoolteacher, and Fred Ross, Sr. (July 4, 1920 – November 21, 2007), a former United States Army soldier, Ross would later say that she didn’t see much of her father until he had returned from service following World War II. Much has been made of whether her first name ends in an “a” or an “e”. According to Ross, her mother actually named her “Diane” but a clerical error resulted in her name being recorded as “Diana” on her birth certificate. She always went by “Diane” at home and at school. Her high school yearbook listed her as “Diana” and as early as 1963, when The Supremes released their first album, she was listed in the liner notes as “Diana”. At The Supremes’ first Copacabana engagement in 1965, she introduced herself to the audience as “Diane”, but later that year she started introducing herself as “Diana”,but all her intimates still call her “Diane”.
The Supremes: 1959–1970
Main article: The Supremes
At fifteen, Ross was brought to the attention of music impresario Milton Jenkins, manager of the local doo-wop group the Primes, by Mary Wilson. Paul Williams, then member of The Primes, convinced Jenkins to include Ross in the Primettes, considered a “sister group” of the Primes. Ross was part of a lineup that included Wilson, Florence Ballard and Betty McGlown, who completed the lineup. In 1960, following their win at a singing contest in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, the group auditioned for a spot on Motown Records after Smokey Robinson introduced the young group to Berry Gordy. Upon learning of their ages, Gordy advised them to come back after graduation. Undeterred, the quartet stayed around Motown’s Hitsville U.S.A. headquarters, offering to provide extra help for Motown’s recordings, often including hand-claps and background vocals. That same year, the Primettes made their first recordings for Lu Pine Records, with Ross singing lead on her and Ballard’s composition, “Tears of Sorrow”. During the group’s early years, Ross served as the group’s main hair stylist, make-up artist, seamstress and costume designer during this period.
In January 1961, after having replaced McGlown with Barbara Martin, Berry Gordy agreed to sign the young act under the condition they change their name. Each member picked out various names from friends. Eventually they settled on The Supremes, though Ross initially had apprehensions toward the name – she felt the name would mistake them for a male vocal group. But Gordy agreed with the new name and signed them on January 15 of that year. Following Martin’s exit in 1962, the group remained a trio. During the group’s early years, there was no designated lead vocalist for the group as they had agreed to split lead vocals between their choice of song material; Ross favoring the uptempo pop songs. That changed in 1963 when Gordy assigned Ross, who had already sung lead on the majority of their early singles, as the main lead vocalist, considering that her vocals had potential to reach Gordy’s dreams of crossover success. Following this, they recorded their first hit single, “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes”, later that year, where it peaked at #23 on the Billboard Hot 100. Before this song, the Supremes were unfavorably pinned as the “no-hit Supremes”. Following this, the group reached number-one with “Where Did Our Love Go” and reached unprecedented success: between August 1964 and May 1967, Ross, Wilson and Ballard sang on ten number-one hit singles, all of which also made the UK top forty. The group had also become a hit with audiences both domestically and abroad, going on to become Motown’s most successful vocal act throughout the sixties.
After a period of tension, Florence Ballard was removed from the Supremes by Gordy in July 1967 and he chose Cindy Birdsong to take her place. Gordy’s decision to rename the group, Diana Ross & The Supremes, hinted that he had plans on making Ross a future solo star. Gordy initially thought of Ross leaving the Supremes for a solo career in 1966 but changed his mind when he figured the group’s success was still too massive for Ross to pursue solo obligations. Ross would remain with the group until early 1970. Between their early 1968 single “Forever Came Today” and their final single, “Someday We’ll Be Together”, Ross would be the only Supremes member to be prominently featured on the recordings, further dissolving the group’s former rapport. Gordy worked Ross diligently throughout this period and Ross chose to not eat much as the group went on countless rehearsals and recording sessions. By the time the group performed at places like The Copacabana and Coconut Grove, there were rumors that Ross had been suffering from anorexia nervosa due to her extremely skinny frame. After some performances, Ross would collapse from exhaustion, forcing Gordy to cancel or postpone several concerts until Ross felt well enough to perform again.