8 Surprising Facts About Diana Ross
Not many artists can claim a career that spans six decades, but singer Diana Ross can. The recording artist, who turned 75 on March 26, emerged as part of The Supremes in the 1960s before going solo with a series of hits like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “I’m Coming Out.” She's not quite done, either.
Following a birthday tribute at this year's Grammy Awards in February, Ross hit the road for yet another tour, which she's in the midst of right now. While the world celebrates the contributions Ross has made to the music world, we’re taking a look back at the life and work of one of the music industry’s most celebrated—and prolific—voices.
1. Diana Ross grew up in a talented neighborhood.
Born March 26, 1944 in Detroit, Michigan, Diana Ross was raised in the Brewster-Douglass Projects, a low-income housing facility in the city. One of her neighbors was Smokey Robinson, who would go on to become one of the signature performers for producer Berry Gordy’s Motown record label. It was Robinson who introduced Ross to Gordy when Ross decided to form an all-girl singing group, The Primettes, with friends Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Betty McGlown. (A singer named Barbara Martin later replaced McGlown, though Martin soon left and made the quartet a trio.) The Primettes signed with Motown after the young women graduated high school in 1961.
2. The Supremes weren't an immediate hit.
Despite the seemingly magical touch of Gordy and a name change from The Primettes to The Supremes, neither Ross nor her band was not an overnight success. In the halls of Motown, producers and other acts referred to the group as the “No-Hit Supremes” due to their lack of commercial success. It would take three years before the women broke out with “Where Did Our Love Go?” It was the first of five consecutive number-one singles—including “Baby Love” and “Come See About Me”—that The Supremes would record between July 1964 and May 1965.
3. She got booed at a funeral.
Like many acts, success found The Supremes at the beginning of a bumpy road. Ballard was fired in 1967, the same year Gordy changed the name of the group to Diana Ross & The Supremes. With Ross’s star eclipsing those of the other members, in 1969 she announced that she would be moving on to a solo career. At Ballard’s funeral in 1976, Ross emerged from a limousine with bodyguards, an ostentatious appearance that led fans gathered outside to boo her.
4. A Supremes reunion didn’t go very well.
Ross got together with The Supremes for a reunion tour in 2000, but it wasn’t quite what fans expected. Instead of performing with Wilson or Cindy Birdsong, who was a later addition to the group, Ross opted to appear with Scherrie Payne and Lynda Laurence, who joined after Ross had already left. (Wilson and Birdsong turned down a reported $3 million each, less than the $15 to $20 million Ross was expected to earn.) Owing to sluggish ticket sales, the concert promoter canceled the tour with just 14 dates remaining.
5. She performed for nearly half a million people in Central Park.
In a testament to the popularity of Ross as a solo artist, the singer attracted an estimated 350,000 to 400,000 people for a performance on Central Park’s Great Lawn on July 21, 1983. The concert, which was intended to raise money for the City Parks Department as well as a children’s playground at West 81st Street, hit a snag early when a rainstorm forced the crowd to disperse just 25 minutes into the performance. Ross tried to convince them to remain, but when the storm grew worse, she compelled them to leave in an orderly manner. Ross performed a makeup concert the following night for approximately 350,000 people. When both the city and the production lost money on the cancellation, Ross donated $250,000 toward the playground out of her own pocket.
6. She was going to star in The Bodyguard.
After her solo career took off, Ross tried her hand at acting. In 1976, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan wrote The Bodyguard, about the romantic entanglement between a pop star and her personal security detail. Ross was supposed to star as the singer, with Steve McQueen playing the bodyguard. The project never came together with those two actors. Instead, it was made with Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner in 1992. In real life, one of Ross’s bodyguards was former bouncer Lawrence Tureaud, better known as Mr. T.
7. A “lost” Ross album finally surfaced in 2015.
One of Ross’s most notable acting roles was as Dorothy in The Wiz, a 1978 reimagining of The Wizard of Oz, which was produced by Berry Gordy. Ross recorded a tie-in album, Diana Ross Sings Songs From the Wiz, which was expected to be released in 1979. After the film failed to perform at the box office, Motown cancelled the album’s release. It wasn’t made publicly available until 2015.
8. She won a long-overdue Grammy in 2012.
Although Ross has been nominated for 12 Grammy awards, she has never won. That somewhat inexplicable statistic changed in 2012, when Ross received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Early this year, she appeared at the 61st annual Grammys for a performance commemorating her 75th birthday.