Diana Ross Biography

26 March 1944, Detroit, Michigan, USA. While still in high school Ross became the fourth and final member of the Primettes, who recorded for Lu-Pine in 1960, signed to Motown Records in 1961 and then changed their name to the Supremes. She was a backing vocalist on the group’s early releases, until Motown boss Berry Gordy insisted that she become their lead singer, a role she retained for the next six years. In recognition of her prominent position in the Supremes, she received individual billing on all their releases from 1967 onwards. Throughout her final years with the group, Ross was being groomed for a solo career under the close personal supervision of Gordy, with whom she was rumoured to have romantic links. In late 1969, he announced that Ross would be leaving the Supremes, and she played her final concert with the group in January 1970. The same year, following the relative failure of ‘Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)’, Ross began a long series of successful solo releases with the US chart-topping ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’. She continued to enjoy success with lightweight love songs in the early 70s, with ‘I’m Still Waiting’ topping the UK charts in 1971, and ‘Touch Me In The Morning’ becoming her second US number 1 in 1973.

In April 1971, she had married businessman Robert Silberstein (they were divorced in 1976 after renewed speculation about her relationship with Gordy). Motown’s plan to widen Ross’ appeal led her to host a television special, Diana!, in 1971. In 1972, she starred in Motown’s film biography of Billie Holiday, Lady Sings The Blues, winning an Oscar nomination for her stirring portrayal of the jazz singer’s physical decline into drug addiction. However, subsequent starring roles in Mahogany (1975) and The Wiz (1978) drew a mixed critical response. In 1973, she released an album of duets with Marvin Gaye, though allegedly the pair did not meet during the recording of the project. She enjoyed another US number 1 with the theme song from Mahogany, subtitled ‘Do You Know Where You’re Going To’, in 1975. Her fourth US chart-topper, ‘Love Hangover’ (1976), saw her moving into the contemporary disco field, a shift of direction that was consolidated on the 1980 album Diana, produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic. Her choice of hit material continued to be inspired and the 80s started with a major hit, ‘Upside Down’, which rooted itself at the top of the US chart for a month, and reached number 2 in the UK. Similar but lesser success followed with ‘I’m Coming Out’ (US number 5) and ‘It’s My Turn’ (US number 9), although she enjoyed another UK Top 5 hit with the jaunty ‘My Old Piano’. The following year a collaboration with Lionel Richie produced the title track to the movie Endless Love; this tear-jerker spent more than two months at the top of the US chart. By now, Ross was as much a media personality as a soul singer, winning column inches for her liaison with Gene Simmons of Kiss. There was also intense speculation about the nature of her relationship with Michael Jackson, whose career she had helped to guide since 1969.

After months of rumour about her future, Ross left Motown in 1981, and signed contracts with RCA Records for North America, and Capitol Records for the rest of the world. She formed her own production company and had further hits. A reworking of Frankie Lymon’s ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’ (US number 7/UK number 4) and Michael Jackson’s ‘Muscles’ confirmed her pre-eminence in the field of disco pop, but during the remainder of the 80s only 1984’s ‘Missing You’, a tribute to the late Marvin Gaye, brought her the success to which she had become accustomed. In Britain, however, she achieved a number 1 hit in 1986 with ‘Chain Reaction’, an affectionate recreation of her days with the Supremes, written and produced by the Bee Gees.

In 1986, Ross married a Norwegian shipping magnate, Arne Naess, effectively quashing renewed rumours that she might wed Berry Gordy and return to Motown, although from 1989 onwards the label acted as the licenser for her new releases. She won more publicity for her epic live performances, notably an open-air concert in New York’s Central Park in a torrential storm, than for her sporadic releases of new material, which continue to occupy the lighter end of the black music market. She continued to be more successful in the UK, reaching number 2 in late 1991 with ‘When You Tell Me That You Love Me’ and number 10 the following year with ‘One Shining Moment’. In 1994, she starred in the television movie Out Of Darkness, playing an institutionalized schizophrenic.

Ross announced the break-up of her marriage to Naess in 1999. Later in the year ‘Not Over You Yet’, an attempt to replicate the sound of Cher’s international hit single ‘Believe’, reached the UK Top 10. The following year’s Supremes reunion tour, featuring Ross as the only original member, was cancelled after only a few dates owing to poor ticket sales. In February 2004, Ross was sentenced to two days in jail after pleading no contest to a drink driving charge.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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