Good Morning. Let’s reflect some more on Diana Ross.
Early solo career: 1970–1981
After her obligations with the Supremes were fulfilled with Jean Terrell set as the Supremes’ new lead vocalist, Ross signed a new contract as a solo artist in March 1970. Two months later, Motown released her eponymous solo debut, which included the hits, “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” the latter song becoming her first number-one single as a solo artist on the pop and R&B charts, also becoming an international hit reaching the UK top ten, and winning Ross her first Grammy nomination. Ross followed this with a second solo album, Everything Is Everything, which was also released in 1970, and included the number-one UK ballad, “I’m Still Waiting.” The album, however, failed to reach the same success as Ross’ debut. Reunited with Ashford & Simpson, Ross fared better with her third album, Surrender, released in 1971, which included her hit cover of the Four Tops’ “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” and “Remember Me.”
To continue that album’s momentum, Ross performed in her first solo TV special, Diana! This was a ratings success. Due to her commitments to working on her first major film and her duet recording with Marvin Gaye, Ross only released one solo recording in 1972. She reemerged in 1973 with “Touch Me in the Morning,” which became her first single to reach number-one in three years. The album of the same name became Ross’s first non-soundtrack studio album to reach the top ten, peaking at #5. Later that year, the Diana & Marvin album, her duet album with Gaye, was released, and spawned five hit singles, including three released in the United States and two in Europe, gaining an international hit with their cover of The Stylistics’ “You Are Everything.” In 1973, Ross began giving out concerts overseas where she immediately sold out at every concert venue she performed at. That year, Ross became the first entertainer in Japan’s history to receive an invitation to the Imperial Palace for a private audience with the Empress Nagako, wife of Emperor Hirohito. Ross’s next solo album, 1974’s Last Time I Saw Him featured the successful title track, but it was not as successful as Touch Me in the Morning. Ross left off 1975 for another film, returning in 1976 with another eponymous album, which saw Ross gain a dance audience after the release of the disco-tinged song, “Love Hangover,” which returned the singer to number-one. (Will Smith later sampled the hook of “Love Hangover” for his chart selection “Freakin’ It.”)
Ross’s follow-up albums, 1977’s Baby It’s Me and 1978’s Ross, however, both faltered on the charts, mainly due to lack of promotion and a period of growing tension between Ross and Gordy, stemming from an incident in 1975 after Ross struck him after the two engaged in an argument on the set of Ross’s film, Mahogany. In 1977, Ross starred in her own one-woman show at Broadway, titled An Evening with Diana Ross. Her performance later resulted in her winning a Tony Award. A television special of this show was later aired to much success. In 1979, Ross achieved her first gold-selling album in three years with The Boss, the first album since Surrender to be formally produced by Ashford & Simpson, who had by then left Motown to have a successful singing career. Initially, Ross had been set to work on an album with Rick James; James would later confirm that the song, “I’m a Sucker for Your Love” was originally a duet between Ross and James, but James changed his mind after Motown only wanted him to produce a couple tracks. James passed on the song and some others on Teena Marie’s debut album. The recording and release of The Boss further deteriorated Ross’s relationship with Berry Gordy, as he had not approved of the producers and refused to receive credit as executive producer, hinting at Ross’s own desire to leave Motown.
After catching the group Chic at a concert where she attended with her daughters, Ross advised to the leaders of the band, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards to work with them in New York on her next album. They agreed and, in 1980, Ross released the Diana album. The album became her highest-charting solo album and her most successful, featuring hits including the number-one hit, “Upside Down,” her first song to reach the top position in four years. Another song, “I’m Coming Out,” became equally successful; its hook would later be sampled for “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems.” Diana would become Ross’s final studio album under her Motown contract. She would later work on four songs to complete her contractual obligations for the compilation album, To Love Again, which would be released in May 1981. Though Ross had sought to leave Motown in 1980 shortly after the release of Diana, she discovered, just as she was planning to leave Motown, that she only had up to $150,000 in her name despite helping Motown to earn millions of dollars with her recordings in the twenty years she had been signed to the label. Upon learning she was a free agent, several labels offered deals. Eventually, Ross would settle on a $20 million deal with RCA Records. Before signing, however, Berry Gordy called her begging her to not leave Motown. Ross asked if Gordy could match the $20 million that RCA had offered her. When Gordy told her that he could not match it, Ross told him she was planning to leave the company. Ross signed with RCA on May 20, 1981, and her $20 million deal in 1981 became then the most lucrative contract of any recording artist at the time. After leaving, Ross achieved her sixth and final number-one hit with Lionel Richie on the ballad “Endless Love” around the same time Ross left the label.