Born Diane Ross, March 26, 1944, in Detroit, MI; daughter of Fred and Ernestine Ross; married Robert Ellis Silberstein, January, 1971 (divorced, 1976); married Arne Naess, October 23, 1985; children: (first marriage) Rhonda, Tracee, Chudney; (second marriage) one son, two stepchildren. Addresses: AGENT--c/o Shelly Berger, 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90028.
"It is not just the music that makes her a star," a prescient critic assessedof a Diana Ross performance in the August 5, 1970, Variety. At that time Ross had already established herself as the lead singer for the Supremes, the nonpareil female group of the 1960s, but her talent, personal style, and ambition were then carrying her to a successful solo career and she would soon makenoteworthy appearances in films and on television. Under the management of Motown, the record company that had launched the Supremes, Ross was a millionaire while still in her teens, but in 1981 she became "a walking corporation"according to Susan L. Taylor (Essence, December, 1985), "controlling her ownmanagement, film and music production, and music publishing." She was also, in Taylor's words, "an international megastar."
Ross's position, wrote Taylor, was "earned the old fashioned way: through hard work and determination." Diane, as she is still known to friends and family, was living in a Detroit housing project when a singer for the the Primes (alocal group that later became the Temptations) asked Ross's parents to let their daughter sing with a "sister group" called the Primettes. With her parents' support, Ross began taking classes in cosmetology and performing at dances and talent shows. After two Primettes left the group to be married, the remaining members--Mary Wilson, Forence Ballard, and Diana, as she began to callherself--developed the look and the sound that prompted singer-songwriter Smokey Robinson to arrange for them to audition for Motown founder Berry Gordy.Although Gordy was impressed, he did not offer the girls a recording contract until they had finished school. Dubbed the Supremes by Gordy, the trio became Motown's favored act when their tenth single rose to the top of the charts.
The hit, "Where Did Our Love Go?," was their first single to make industry news. Arranged by Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Brian Holland (the team Gordy hired to write for the trio), the song "would launch the Supremes as the only Americans to seriously contend with the Beatles for the top chart spot,"wrote Gerri Hirshey in the May, 1984, Esquire. As described in Time (August 17, 1970), Mary and Florence "purred" the background "while Diana did the leadin a voice that was equal parts coyness, sexiness, nicotene, and velvet." For the first time, a large white audience was finding black pop-harmony with agospel flavor accessible and irresistible. Diana Ross's role in this phenomenally successful crossover also involved being a glamorous illustration "of the idea that black is beautiful," explained Geoffrey Cannon in the May 1, 1972 Guardian. "Dressed and made up extravagantly to look like a cat-goddess, Diana Ross exploited her wide-mouthed, small-nosed beauty to its limit," he added. The Supremes had six consecutive gold records in 1964, seven in 1967, anda dozen bestselling albums by 1969 when Ross was ready to start her solo career.
That new phase also included film appearances, where Ross revealed both her acting talents and her flair for fashion design. While preparing for her debutas Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues, Ross, who had studied fashion illustration in high school, where she also was voted best-dressed, rejected thecostumes that had been made for her and replaced them with her own designs.The film's producer, Berry Gordy, told New York Times contributor Aljean Harmetz that the extra money it cost him for the new wardrobe was well spent. Years before, Hirshey related, Ross had designed an appealing look for the Primettes even before they had developed a characteristic sound. Ross brought morethan a "look" to the challenging role in Lady, however. Harmetz observed that Ross "did not in any way try to make pretty the drug dazed Billie." Perhapsrecalling scenes that show the incarcerated jazz singer suffering heroin withdrawal, Gordy told Harmetz that viewers were "surprised Diana would allow herself to look so real." Ross's acting ability, unexpected by some critics, was recognized in the awards her performance garnered. In addition to a GoldenGlobe, she was nominated for an Academy Award as best actress and named Cue magazine's entertainer of the year.
Ross again proved herself adept at acting and couture with a non- singing role in her second film. For Mahogany, the story of a fashion madel who is put through harrowing paces by an ambitious photographer, she again wore her own designs. The star also won the respect of colleagues by suffering some of hercharacter's perils herself, diving into frigid waters for retakes on locationin Rome, a feat noted in the February 24, 1975, Time. Her performance brought her a Cesar, the French equivalent of Hollywood's Oscar.
In the early 1970s Ross devoted time to her three daughters by then- husbandRobert Silberstein, a rock promoter; this limited her availability for concerts, as Derek Jewell noted in the London Sunday Times. His September 23, 1983review of the singer's Albert Hall appearance credits the show's success to Ross's eagerness to perform for a live audience and to a "new artistry" born of experience. In addition to her "sweet, husky, big yet intimately curled-upvoice as well as a skinny frame which sudden small curves make beautiful," Jewell perceived vocal excellence "and a commanding presence able to make eventhe Albert Hall seem small."
Cue magazine's Daphne Davis reported in the September 29, 1978 issue that Ross's eagerness to perform for the camera piqued again when she heard that theBroadway hit The Wiz, a musical version of The Wizard of Oz with a black cast, was to be filmed as one of the first projects at New York City's revitalized Astoria Studios. Taking the lead as Dorothy, Ross co-starred with Michael Jackson, who had been her protege since his early years as a child star with the Jackson Five. Together they sang and romped the yellow brick road from Harlem to the World Trade Center, the film's urban analogues of Kansas and the Emerald City. As with so much else in her career to this point, this role wassecured for Ross by Motown manager and friend, Berry Gordy.
When Ross left Motown in 1981, she was independent of Gordy's supervision forthe first time in twenty years. In his place Ross installed RTC Management,her own company, which is named after daughters Rhonda, Tracee, and Chudney.RTC is just one part of Diana Ross Enterprises, which also includes Anaid Films, the Diana Ross Foundation, and a music publishing company. As her own manager, Ross has actively pursued projects ranging from the production of a free concert in New York's Central Park to seeking financing for a film about American expatriate entertainer Josephine Baker.
The joys of self-determination have sometimes, as in the case of the free concert, been dampened by the problems that can beset large- scale ventures. A thunderstorm interrupted that show and injuries resulted as the crowd rushed to leave the park during the downpour, reported Frank J. Prial in the New YorkTimes. His July 23, 1983 article noted that some who attended the rescheduled concert were assaulted by roving gangs. In the end, the concert, which wastaped both nights for broadcast to raise money for a city playground, insteadcost the city and the show's producer more than 1.5 million dollars in damages. The press made much of the fact that Mayor Edward I. Koch had not received the promised percentage of profits from the broadcast of the concert some time afterward. According to Hirshey, Ross accused reporters of pressuring herto do what she had intended from the beginning, and she paid some $250,000 of her own money to compensate for what the concert failed to net, since the cost of taping the show on two nights exceeded what it earned when broadcast.
Ross has had other confrontations with the press, notably over the Broadway hit Dreamgirls, which depicts the rise of a black "girl group" very similar tothe Supremes in some respects. "Dreamgirls came out, and they started writing that I was angry. It wasn't that," the former Supreme told Taylor, who wenton to report the singer's judgment that the show may be inaccurate since itsmakers had solicited neither her input nor her endorsement.
The superstar enjoys good relations with Motown if not with the press. Afterdescribing her close friendship with Berry Gordy and Suzanne de Passe, the president of Motown Productions, Ross told Taylor, "Going out on my own has made me really value how good Motown was to me. It's made me see that they did awhole lot that I'm doing for myself now. But it's so much better to controlyour own life." Later in the interview, Ross added that Gordy, whom Davis identified as the star's "permanent mentor and father figure," is pleased with her independence.
Ross has had much to enjoy for herself. She has made number one records in recent years both as a soloist and in duets with Lionel Richie and Julio Iglesias. She set a box office record at Radio City Music Hall with proceeds in excess of 1.7 million dollars. As Taylor related, she has also participated in projects that reach beyond "Diana Ross--the image," such as the "We Are the World" video and record that raised sixty million dollars for famine relief. She has continued the concerts around the world that give her stardom an international dimension. On a more personal level, the birth of a son to Ross and her second husband, Norwegian shipping magnate Arne Naess, realized the determination she expressed when her first marriage ended--"I want to marry again,and, more important, have a boy. I'll keep trying until I die."
Diana Ross told CTFT: "Most performers are real insecure. No, I'm not secure.I should be. Being insecure is not necessary, but it makes you better. I'llnever be satisfied. I like to win, and I always set my goals for myself."
January 13, 2004: Ross's album, Ultimate Collection, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_5/index.jsp, January 21, 2004.February 9, 2004: Ross was convicted of driving under the influence and ordered to spend two days in jail. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com, February 10, 2004.March 10, 2004: Ross was ordered back to jail by a judge who said shefailed by one hour to complete a two-day sentence he gave her for a drunken driving incident. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com, March 16, 2004.November 20, 2004: Ross spoke at Musictech College in St. Paul, Minnesota, where a scholarship was initiated in her honor. Source: USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/people/2004-11-22-diana-ross_x.htm, November 22, 2004.