Diana Ross: Soul legend not easing up as she turns 80

27 Mar



With The Supremes, she became a Motown icon, and went on to be one of the world's most celebrated singers. Diana Ross continues to inspire to this day.


As she turns 80, Diana Ross is showing the same tenacity she has demonstrated throughout her career, which has spanned well over 60 years. The singer has always known life is a matter of sink or swim. Grit and determination has seen the soul queen go from the social housing estate in Detroit, where she grew up, to the stages of some of the biggest arenas in the world. "You can't just sit there and wait for people to give you that golden dream," Ross once said. "You've got to get out there and make it happen for yourself."

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Striving for perfection

Born Diana Ernestine Earle Ross on March 26, 1944, in Detroit, Michigan, she was the second of six children of African-American parents. "I was brought up to have ideals, to believe that anything was possible, and that hard work was part of that," the singer wrote in "Secrets of a Sparrow," her 1993 memoir. Now a multi-million dollar selling artist who has won countless awards with her music, Diana Ross' exceptional career has served as an inspiration for many young Black women.

The path to stardom, however, was far from easy. In a music industry subverted by racism and sexism, she has often felt the need to defend her determination to succeed. "It seems that with every achievement, with every move I have made, no matter how great or small, someone was always there to try to bring me down," she said in her memoir.


Supreme talent — and diva behavior?

She first rose to fame as the lead singer of The Supremes in the 1960s, when songs such as "Baby Love," "Stop! In the Name of Love" and "You Can't Hurry Love" saw her propelled into a different realm of popularity. Although the original lineup was also comprised of Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, and Betty McGlown — who was soon replaced by Barbara Martin — it was Ross as the lead singer who gained all the plaudits. When the decision was made by their record label, Motown, to rename the group Diana Ross & the Supremes, it was clear a star was rising.

Her growing fame was accompanied by a burgeoning reputation for glitz and demands, followed by tantrums if they were not met. Over the years, the music icon's off-stage outbursts have been widely covered by the press. Whether her striving for perfection spilled over into "diva" territory is open to debate, knowing that several male stars at the top of their game didn't face the same level of scrutiny.


'Ain't No Mountain High Enough'

In 1970, Ross left to pursue a solo career. She scored her first solo US number-one hit that same year with the release of her single "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" on her eponymous debut solo album. A decade of success followed, with hits including, in 1980, "Upside Down" and "I'm Coming Out" — which remains to this day an LGBTQ+ anthem — and "Endless Love," a 1981 duet with Lionel Richie, which saw her become the female solo act with the most number-one songs in the US at the time. More hits were on the horizon, such as "Chain Reaction" (1985) and "If We Hold On Together" (1988), allowing her to fill arenas around the world, as she still does today.

Beyond her renown as a singer, Ross has also achieved success as an actress. Her portrayal of Billie Holiday in the 1972 biopic "Lady Sings the Blues" earned her a Golden Globe award, as well as an Oscar nomination for best actress in a leading role; she thereby became the first Black actress to be nominated in the category for a debut film performance. Other films she starred in include the romantic drama film "Mahogany" (1975) and "The Wiz" (1978), Sidney Lumet's African-American version of the "Wizard of Oz" musical.



Along with 13 Grammy nominations, she has received two Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards — one for her solo career and the other one as a member of The Supremes. Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, she also has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and received the United States' highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2016.

As she turns 80, she embarks on her "Beautiful Love Performances - Legacy 2024 Tour" that will reunite her with her fans across North America in the coming months. For Ross, music remains the best prescription against the torments of the world. As she writes on her website, "Put some positive music in your chain of thoughts. Think, 'gratitude.' You can't stop thinking, so think good thoughts."


Author John Silk 

Edited by: Elizabeth Grenier

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