American soul/pop singer Whether singing with the Supremes or solo, Ross is a soulful pop artist, whose versatile voice and innovative recordings helped to build Motown Records and to create the Motown sound.
Born: March 26, 1944; Detroit, Michigan
Diane Ernestine Earle was born in the relatively poor surroundings of inner-city Detroit. She was the second of six children, and her parents, Fred Ross and Ernestine Moten, instilled in their children a positive attitude and an adherence to the Baptist faith.Her father changed jobs often, and her mother was frequently ill.Whenher mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, the family moved briefly to Bessemer, Alabama, for her medical treatment. When Ross was fourteen, the family moved back to Detroit's Brewster housing project. She began to be interested in music, and she befriended Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Betty McGlown. Throughout their teenage years, the foursome participated in the doo-wop group the Primettes, refining their skills on the local scene. In 1961 Motown Records offered the girls a contract (and Ross a secretarial position), at which time McGlown was replaced by Barbara Martin. They changed the group's name to the Supremes.
The Supremes toured and recorded extensively, and in 1971 Ross married her manager, Robert Ellis Silberstein. In addition, her daughter Rhonda Suzanne Silberstein was born that year. The child took the name of Ross's husband, although she was conceived withMotownRecords' head BerryGordy. In 1972 Ross and Silberstein had a daughter, Tracee Joy Silberstein. Three years later, the couple had Chudney Lane Silberstein; Ross and Silberstein divorced in 1977. Ross married Norwegian businessman Arne N?ss in 1985. The pair had two sons, Ross Arne N?ss and Evan Olaf N?ss; Ross and N?ss divorced in 2000. The Music The Supremes. After signing a contract with Motown Records and changing its name from the Primettes to the Supremes, the group became a trio, consisting of Ross, Wilson, and Ballard. During the first few years, they switched lead vocal parts. In late 1963, however, Gordy named Ross lead singer of the Supremes. The group's chart-topping single "Where Did Our Love Go" was written by Lamont Dozier and Brian and Eddie Holland, the team known as Holland-Dozier-Holland, who also wrote the Supremes' next four hit singles: "Baby Love", "Stop! In the Name of Love", "Come See About Me", and "Back in My Arms Again".
Solo Career. Ross became more of a central figure to the Supremes, and the other two members, Wilson and newcomer Cindy Birdsong, became little more than backup singers, making only small contributions to "Love Child" and "Someday We'll Be Together". Because of increasing tensions, Ross left the group in 1969, and she was replaced by Jean Terrell. Although the Supremes continued with a variety of lineups through 1977, their prominence was overshadowed by Ross's succesful solo career. From the outset, Ross worked with songwriters-producers Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, and her self-titled debut album yielded the number-one single "Ain'tNoMountain High Enough". Film Acting. Two years later, Ross starred in the film Lady Sings the Blues (1972), paying tribute to Billie Holiday. Despite controversy surrounding the vocal differences between Ross and Holiday, Ross's performance earned favorable reviews and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Throughout the 1970's, she balanced work in films withwork in recording.
In 1973 Ross sang the charttopping ballad "Touch Me in the Morning", and in 1975 she appeared in the film Mahogany, which featured the successful single "Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To)". In 1978 Ross joined the cast of the film The Wiz, which was based on a 1975 Broadway musical that reworked The Wizard of Oz (1939) with an entirely African American cast. In The Wiz, Ross was reunited with Michael Jackson, whom she had mentored during his early Jackson Five days. Disco Era. In the 1980's, Ross recruited producers Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers (of Chic) to create a disco sound for her album Diana and for a series of club singles, such as "I'm Coming Out" and "Upside Down". Her duet with Lionel Richie on "Endless Love" showed she was still capable of producing a power ballad. RCA Recordings. Despite her two decades with the company and her close relationship with its owner, Ross left Motown Records and signed a contract with RCAin a reported twenty-million-dollar deal. Her self-produced 1981 albumfor the label,WhyDo Fools Fall in Love?, featured a cover of the title track (originally by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers), along with a solo version of "Endless Love", and it sold more than a million copies. The following year's Silk Electric was a mostly selfproduced project that featured another reunion with Jackson, who produced the hit "Muscles". Ross's next (and final) hit album for RCA was Swept Away, which featured the soulful ballad "Missing You". Back to Motown. Because of shifting musical trends that resulted in disappointing sales, Ross dissolved her partnership with RCA in 1989, and she returned to Motown Records, with the hope of reviving her career and the label's faltering fortunes. Stolen Moments: The Lady Sings . . . Jazz and Blues helped reestablish the star as a vocal force, and it stimulated publicity for her autobiography, Secrets of a Sparrow: Memoirs.
In 1993 Motown released the box set Forever Diana: Musical Memoirs, a compilation of Ross's career hits. In 1995 Ross released Take Me Higher, which was designed for club play, and another album with dance tracks, Until We Meet Again, appeared in 1999, when Ross starred in the ABC television film Double Platinum (alongside rhythm-and-blues singer Brandy). New Record Label. In 2006 Motown rereleased Blue (a previously shelved album of jazz standards originally meant to follow Lady Sings the Blues) and The Definitive Collection (a collection of songs from Ross's Motown and RCA eras). Ross signed a contract with the EMI label to produce the studio album I Love You. Featuring her signature combination of classic rock songs and love ballads, the album debuted at number thirty-two on the Billboard 200. Musical Legacy Ross and the Supremes helped make Motown Records a significant record label, and, with their soaring harmonies, coordinated dance steps, glamorous outfits, and classy demeanor, they paved the way for girl groups of all genres.
As a solo performer, Ross showed her versatility by expanding her repertoire to include jazz, disco, and dance works, along with her blues and pop standards. While advancing her career, Ross also helped other artists, such as Jackson and Lionel Richie. The entertainer crossed musical and racial boundaries on a number of occasions, with her film roles and her public appearances across the globe. In group and in solo contexts, Ross's recording catalog is among the most extensive in history, and she is one of few artists to have singles and albums land on the charts for a span of five decades. In 2007 Ross played a mentor role for American Idol contestants. That same year she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Black Entertainment Television and the Kennedy Center Honors for cultural influence throughout her career.