Monday, February 17, 2014

Diana Ross, The #12 Female Artist of the Rock Era*

Diana Ross was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan.  She grew up in the north end of the city, a neighbor of Smokey Robinson.  By the time Diana was a teenager, she dreamed of becoming a fashion designer, studying design, millinery, pattern-making and seamstress skills at Cass Technical High School.

When she was fifteen, however, Milton Jenkins, manager of the group the Primes, became aware of Ross through a suggestion by Mary Wilson.  Paul Williams, a member of the Primes, convinced Jenkins to include Ross in the Primettes, essentially a "sister group" of the Primes.  Ross joined the group that also included Wilson, Florence Ballard and Betty McGlown.  

The Primettes eventually signed a recording contract with Motown Records, changing their name to the Supremes.  McGlown left in 1962, and Ross graduated early from high school in January to devote full-time attention to the group.

Ross became famous as the lead singer of the Supremes, one of the top recording artists of all-time.  The Supremes went on to score 12 career #1 songs, third only to the Beatles and Elvis Presley for many years of the Rock Era.  After Ross left the group in 1970, she released her self-titled debut album, which contained her initial solo hit, "Reach Out And Touch (Somebody's Hand)".  It was an underrated #20 in the U.S., but #7 on the R&B chart.

Diana's solo venture really took hold with her next release.  She scored a huge #1 song with "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", a remake of the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell hit, that also reached #6 in the U.K. and #7 in Canada, and is one of The Top 500 Songs of the Rock Era*.  Ross earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

Ross also starred in the acclaimed movie Lady Sings the Blues, in which she received nominations from both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes for Best Actress, and a Golden Globe trophy for Most Promising Newcomer.  Diana also earned an American Music Award for Favorite Pop/Rock Album.

Ross followed with a second solo album, Everything Is Everything, also released in 1970.  She starred in her first television special, Diana! in 1971.  Diana's next six singles fell short, until the title track from her 1973 album Touch Me in the Morning was released.  The single was her second #1 smash in the United States, peaking at #5 in Australia, #6 in Canada and #9 in the U.K.,  and Ross was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. 

The album peaked at #5. Ross teamed with Marvin Gaye for the album Diana & Marvin, and then released a third studio album in the year, Last Time I Saw Him.  The title song hit #1 on the Adult chart and #14 overall in the U.S. and #8 in Canada, and helped Diana win an American Music Award for Favorite R&B Female.

Ross began performing overseas, where she immediately sold out every concert.  Diana became the first entertainer in the history of Japan to receive an invitation to give a private performance for Empress Nagako, wife of Emperor Hirohito, in the Imperial Palace. 

The following year, Diana teamed up with Gaye again for the single "My Mistake (Was To Love You)".  It peaked at #16 in Canada and #19 in the United States.

In 1975, Ross starred in the movie Mahogany, loosely based on the legendary singer Billie Holiday, and the theme song went to #1 in the United States, was #4 in Canada and The Netherlands, and #5 in the U.K.  Diana received a People's Choice Award nomination for Best Actress for her role in the film.

The soundtrack to Mahogany became a #1 Album, and one of Ross's biggest career albums at two million units sold.  She then released another eponymous album, in which Diana unleashed the disco classic "Love Hangover".  Ross collected her fourth #1 song in the United States; the song also peaked at #9 in Canada and #10 in the U.K. 

Diana was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, and Ross was specially honored at the Billboard Music Awards for Female Entertainer of the Century.

When her 1977 album Baby It's Me didn't perform up to expectations, Ross decided to enter the Broadway circuit, starring in the one-woman show An Evening with Diana Ross in 1977.  Diana earned a Tony Award for Best Musical Special, and a television special of the Broadway show was later broadcast.  

In 1978, Diana starred in the movie The Wiz, and recorded songs for the soundtrack album.  Ross's duet with Michael Jackson, "Ease On Down The Road", was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.

The following year, Ross earned her first Gold album in three years with The Boss.  The best she could do with the album, however, was the title song at #19.  Diana did win an American Music Award for Favorite Rhythm and Blues/Soul Female Artist, and she was nominated for Favorite Pop Singer at the People's Choice Awards.  

Ross enlisted the help of Chic's Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards for her next album, Diana, in 1980.  The album included her biggest hit in five years, "Upside Down", which  shot up to #1 for four weeks in the U.S., and was also #1 in Australia, #2 in Austria and the U.K., #3 in The Netherlands and #5 in Canada.

Ross earned an American Music Award for Favorite Rhythm and Blues/Soul Single for "Upside Down", and she was nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance for the song.  Diana's follow-up, "I'm Coming Out", was also a success, a #5 hit.

Ross then recorded "It's My Turn" for the movie of the same name, which reached #9 on both the Adult Contemporary and Top 40 charts.

Ross completed her contractual obligations with Motown, her relationship with label head Berry Gordy having becoming too strained to continue.  Upon learning that Diana was up for bids, several labels stepped up with offers.  Ross signed a record $20 million deal with RCA Records in 1981.

While all of this was taking place, Ross recorded a duet with Lionel Richie that would become a classic.  The theme to the movie Endless Love was an across-the-board international smash, achieving the triple #1 of Top 40, Adult Contemporary and R&B in the United States, #1 in Australia and Canada, and #7 in the U.K.  It was a Top 10 song in every major country in the world, and is one of The Top 100 Songs of the Rock Era*.

Diana and Lionel won American Music Awards for Favorite Pop/Rock Single and Favorite R&B/Soul Single, and the pair was nominated for Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group at the Grammy Awards.

Ross starred in her first television special in four years with friend Michael Jackson.  Later that year, Ross released her first album for RCA, Why Do Fools Fall in Love.  The title, a remake of the hit by Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, hit #1 in The Netherlands, #2 on the Adult Contemporary chart and #7 overall in the U.S., and #4 in the U.K.

The album reached Platinum status, and spawned another hit, "Mirror Mirror", #8 in the U.S.

Diana began her own production company, Anaid Productions (which is "Diana" spelled backwards), started investing in real estate, and toured throughout the world.  In 1982, Ross sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Super Bowl XVI.    

The following year, Ross released the album Silk Electric, which featured the Jackson-penned "Muscles", another Top 10 song for her.  Diana won an American Music Award for Favorite Rhythm and Blues/Soul Female Artist, and "Muscles" was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance.

In July, Diana performed in New York City's Central Park in a recorded Showtime special.  Proceeds were to build a playground in her name, but when a torrential downpour forced her to stop and cancel the show, a second show was added.  The substantial additional cost caused the venture to lose money, but Ross paid the $250,000 out of her own pocket to build the park, and The Diana Ross Playground was built three years later.

Diana received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Ross agreed to reunite with Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong as surviving members of the Supremes (Ballard had died in 1976) for the television special Motown 25:  Yesterday, Today, Forever.

In 1984, Ross was back with the album Swept Away, which featured her duet with Julio Iglesias.  "All Of You" was a #2 AC smash and underrated #19 overall in the U.S., and peaked at #7 in The Netherlands and #8 in Canada.

"Missing You" was Diana's tribute to longtime friend Marvin Gaye, who had died earlier in the year.  The song was a multi-format smash, #1 on the R&B chart, #4 Adult Contemporary and #10 overall.

Her next album, Eaten Alive, achieved some success overseas, but not to the level of previous releases.  Ross picked up another American Music Award nomination for Favorite R&B/Soul Female Artist.  Diana appeared with USA for Africa for the classic charity song "We Are The World", which sold over 20 million copies worldwide.

When Ross's 1987 album Red Hot Rhythm & Blues didn't meet expectations, Diana did not renew her contract with RCA.  Ross contacted former boss Berry Gordy at Motown.  Although Gordy sold his creation to MCA in 1988, Gordy offered Diana a contract to return to Motown that included shares in the company.  Diana accepted.  

Despite heavy promotion, Diana's next album, Workin' Overtime, missed its target.  Subsequent releases in 1991, 1995 and 1999 met with similar results, although the albums met with slightly more European success.  "Chain Reaction" reached #1 in Australia, while "When You Tell Me That You Love Me" peaked at #2 in the U.K.

However, the legendary Ross wasn't able to score another worldwide Top 10 song after that.  Nevertheless, consider that together with her Supremes career, this is a lady that achieved 18 #1 songs.

In 1993, Ross earned a Guinness World Record for scoring more hits than any other female artist in the charts with a career total of 70, which included her work with the Supremes.

In 1994, Ross received Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters (Commandeur de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres), France's recognition of significant contributions to the arts.

Ross starred in the television movie Out of Darkness, and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV.

In 1996, Ross received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the World Music Awards, and she performed at halftime of Super Bowl XXX.  In 1998, Diana received the Hitmaker Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

In 2002, she returned to touring, first in Europe and then in the United States.  In 2006, Diana Universal released the album Blue that had been shelved since 1972.  It reached #2 on the jazz albums chart.  

Later in the year, Ross released her first studio album in seven years, I Love You, which sold over 600,000 copies worldwide.  Ross received rave reviews for a world tour.    

In 2007, Ross was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the BET Awards, and was also an honoree at the Kennedy Center Honors.  In 2010, Ross headlined a tour which she dedicated to her late friend, Michael Jackson, who had died in June of 2009.  

Ross received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, making her one of a select few to own two stars, having already been honored with the Supremes.

This is what awards shows do--in 2012, the superstar Ross received her first career Grammy Award--yep, that's not a misprint.  The awards show gave her a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement, which essentially means that they admitted they made colossal blunder after colossal blunder, and were trying to make up for it.

Ross continues to tour, having recently completed shows in the United States and South America.

Diana has sold over 15 million albums in the U.S. alone, and had 45 solo hits, with 12 reaching the Top 10 and six #1 songs.  On the Adult chart, Ross scored 30 hits, with 12 of those going Top 10 and four #1's.  She won six American Music Awards, one Grammy Award, a Billboard Music Award, a World Music Award and a Tony Award.

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