8 Surprising Facts About Diana Ross

Emma McIntyre, Getty Images
Emma McIntyre, Getty Images

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.

Rare, Early Portraits of Jim Morrison and The Doors Are Headed to Auction

Jim Morrison of The Doors photographed in 1968.
Jim Morrison of The Doors photographed in 1968.
Michael Montfort, Swann Auction Galleries

The Doors left a bluesy mark on rock ’n’ roll music that lasted long after the tragic death of frontman Jim Morrison at age 27. But because the band only existed for about six years—in a pre-smartphone era, no less—there isn’t a ton of behind-the-scenes content to tell the story of Morrison’s bright, albeit brief, career.

Come February 25, nine rare photos of Morrison from The Doors’ first European tour in 1968 will end up in the hands of one fortunate fan. Swann Auction Galleries is selling them as part of their “Classic and Contemporary Photographs” auction, which also includes portraits of early Hollywood stars like Joan Crawford, John Barrymore, and Veronica Lake.

The black and white photographs of Morrison were taken by German-born photojournalist Michael Montfort when the band performed in Frankfurt, Germany that September, and they manage to capture the strangely hazy, somewhat intense nature of the legendary lead singer. In one, Morrison looks right into the camera while leaning against a church pulpit; in another, he lies on the stage clutching the microphone with his back turned to the audience; in yet another, a sweat-drenched Morrison holds a leather jacket in one hand and makes a peace sign with the other.

jim morrison of the doors lying onstage
The Doors' Jim Morrison takes a break onstage during a Frankfurt concert in September 1968.
Michael Montfort, Swann Auction Galleries

The Doors played early hits like “Light My Fire” and “Break on Through (To the Other Side)” to raucous, devoted crowds across Europe, but the tour wasn’t without its calamities, due largely to Morrison’s substance abuse. After leaving Frankfurt, the band stopped to perform a show in Amsterdam, where a drug-addled Morrison collapsed on stage during Jefferson Airplane’s opening set. He was immediately taken to a hospital, and keyboard player Ray Manzarek stepped in as lead singer that night. Morrison finished the tour, but his drug addiction would continue to plague him until he died of a (suspected) overdose in Paris in 1971.

jim morrison the doors backstage photo
A messy-haired Morrison flashes a peace sign in 1968.
Michael Montfort, Swann Auction Galleries

The collection of nine photos is expected to fetch between $1500 and $2500, and you can place a bid here.

[h/t Swann Auction Galleries]

10 Facts About The Beatles's 'Ed Sullivan Show' Debut

Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

In 1964, Beatlemania officially reached America. On February 7, 1964, the Fab Four—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison—boarded Pan Am Flight 101 at London's Heathrow Airport with an estimated 4000 fans on hand to wish them good luck on their first trip to America. When they landed at New York City's JFK Airport several hours later, another crowd of approximately 4000 (screaming) fans were waiting for them. But that was nothing compared to the number of people who would tune in to see the legendary rockers perform on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. Here are 10 things you might not know about that historic television event.

1. The Beatles didn't come cheap.

Much like The Tonight Show today, being asked to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show in the 1960s was a huge honor for up-and-coming (and established) artists in the 1960s. The publicity generated from an appearance on the show was enough for most talent to say yes. But The Beatles would only agree to appear if the show covered their travel expenses and paid them a $10,000 fee (which would be just over $80,000 in 2019 dollars). Sullivan and his producers agreed, but only if The Beatles would commit to making three appearances. They had a deal.

2. But The Beatles did end up being a relative bargain.

Though forking over travel expenses and an appearance fee wasn't the norm for The Ed Sullivan Show, it ended up being a great deal for the program, and proof that Beatlemania was just as thriving in America as it was in the UK. It's been estimated that close to 74 million people—40 percent of the country's population at that time—tuned in to watch The Beatles play.

3. Technically, it wasn't The Beatles's American television debut.

While The Ed Sullivan Show marked the first time The Beatles had performed live on American television, it wasn't the first time they had appeared on American television. On November 18, 1963, NBC's The Huntley Brinkley Report aired a whopping four-minute-long segment on Beatlemania—the craze that was sweeping England. Just a few days later, on November 22, CBS Morning News ran a five-minute segment on the band's overseas popularity. The segment was scheduled to re-air that evening, but the news was preempted because of JFK's assassination. Walter Cronkite eventually re-aired it as part of the CBS Evening News on December 10, 1963.

4. more than 700 people got to witness The Beatles' performance live.

While more than a third of America's population witnessed music history in the making the night The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, 728 very lucky individuals got to see it all go down live as part of the show's audience. And when we say "very lucky," we mean it: the program received a record-setting 50,000 requests for tickets to the show.

5. Many people linked Beatlemania to JFK's assassination.

In terms of timing, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the rise of Beatlemania in America were closely linked. While many people at the time decided that the band's popularity was in part due to the president's death—that Americans needed something upbeat and positive—others believe it's purely coincidental. In 2013, Slate ran a piece debating (and largely debunking) "the questionable connections between Camelot’s demise and Liverpool’s ascent."

6. the beatles weren't the evening's only performers.

Remember Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall? No? That's OK. Neither do the majority of the 74 million people who watched The Ed Sullivan Show that night. Brill & McCall were the unfortunate act who had to follow the Fab Four's Earth-shattering, industry-altering performance. The married sketch comedy duo pretty much bombed, as the audience was rather distracted. In 2014, couple—who will celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary this year—talked about that infamous night with CBS.

"For us, it went lousy," McCall said, laughing. "It was terrible.”

"We were doing a sketch," Brill added. "We couldn’t hear each other. Because of the screaming."

Though the appearance didn't do much to advance their career, ultimately, McCall said, it was "an honor" to be a part of it. "We were there when the world changed," she said.

7. One of the Monkees was on the show that night, too.

Davy Jones was also on The Ed Sullivan Show that night, but not as part of The Monkees. Jones was performing with the cast of Broadway's Oliver! Jones played the Artful Dodger, first in London then in New York, and ended up being nominated for a Tony for the role.

8. No, the crime rate did not drop the night The Beatles played.

You've surely heard that old legend that the crime rate in the U.S. dropped dramatically during The Beatles's appearance on the show. Apparently the whole nation was so transfixed by the lads from Liverpool that everyone preferred to tune in instead of running around committing felonies and such. It's a nice story, but according to Snopes, it's not true.

The rumor started when Bill Gold, a reporter from The Washington Post, snarkily remarked that while The Beatles were on that evening, no hubcaps were stolen anywhere. It was meant to infer that The Beatles appealed to the type of degenerate who would do such a thing, but the meaning was twisted and reprinted by Newsweek. Gold ended up writing a tongue-in-cheek retraction on February 21, 1964:

"This week’s issue of Newsweek quotes my report from B.F. Henry that there’s one good thing about the Beatles—'during the hour they were on Ed Sullivan’s show, there wasn’t a hubcap stolen in America.'

It is with heavy heart that I must inform Newsweek that this report was not true. Lawrence R. Fellenz of 307 E. Groveton St., Alexandria, had his car parked on church property during that hour—and all four of his hubcaps were stolen.

The Washington Post regrets the error, and District Liner Fellenz regrets that somewhere in Alexandria there lives a hipster who is too poor to own a TV set."

9. That "very nice" telegram THe Beatles received from Elvis Presley did not come from Elvis Presley.

10th February 1964: A group of Beatles fans watching their heroes perform on the American television programme 'The Ed Sullivan Show'
Central Press/Getty Images

Wasn't it nice that Elvis Presley kicked off The Beatles's American "debut" with a personal telegram? Just before John, Paul, George and Ringo took the stage, Ed Sullivan announced that he had received a "very nice" telegram from The King, wishing the Fab Four "tremendous success." Notoriously known for being jealous of The Beatles, Elvis had actually done no such thing. His manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was responsible for the note, and only sent it because he thought it would make Elvis look good. (Apparently, the disdain was mutual; when the band received the telegram prior to their performance, Harrison reportedly asked, mockingly, "Elvis who?")

10. The Beatles failed to impress Ed Sullivan's musical director.

The crowd (and a third of America) may have been going crazy when The Beatles performed, but Ray Bloch—The Ed Sullivan Show's musical director—wasn't as impressed. When asked for a comment about the performance by a reporter for The New York Times, he was blunt: "The only thing that’s different is the hair, as far as I can see. I give them a year."

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER