The Kennedy Center

Diana Ross


Diana Ross (Singer, actress; born March 26, 1944 in Detroit, Michigan)

Diana Ross makes it sound so simple. "I really, deeply believe that dreams do come true," the international entertainment icon has said, while also believing that "you can't just sit there and wait for people to give you that golden dream-you've got to get out there and make it happen for yourself."

For decades, Diana Ross has been out there making it happen, making dreams come true, making beautiful music in the process. In a stunning career that began in the poorest projects of Detroit and soared into the global musical stratosphere, this American treasure has been spreading romance and joy, embodying the best and often the sweetest in American song. She is blessed with one of those rare voices that is instantly recognizable within a note or two, sounding like her and unlike anybody else. Crossing borders with exhilarating ease-soul and disco, R & B and Broadway, jazz and pop-with The Supremes and on her own, Diana Ross defined and redefined the Motown sound. She then continuously surpassed herself and surprised the world by earning an Academy Award nomination for her acting in Lady Sings the Blues, by reinventing herself in The Wiz and Mahogany, and by her generous philanthropic and musical work with young people. A mere sampling of her hits emerges as a dazzling musical rainbow boasting the brightest colors of what Motown's Barry Gordy dubbed the "Sound of Young America." First came the virtual avalanche of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland, Jr.: "Baby Love," "When the Lovelight Starts Shining through His Eyes," "Come See about Me," "Nothing but Heartaches," "Back in My Arms Again," "Stop! In the Name of Love," "My World is Empty without You," "I Hear a Symphony," "The Happening," "You Keep me Hangin' On," "You Can't Hurry Love," "Love is Here and Now You're Gone," "Reflections," and the heartbreaking valedictory Supremes hit "Someday We'll be Together." Then came the sublime solo efforts that continued and expanded the Ross sound, from "Reach Out and Touch" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" right through the daring, original reinterpretation of Billie Holiday's golden legacy, the collaborations with Marvin Gaye, Lionel Ritchie and Rod Stewart, the minor miracle of The Wiz, the 2007 Black Entertainment Television Award, and this year's CD and DVD "I Love You," where Ross herself says "every song is a positive affirmation of love."

She has not one but two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She has won a Tony and a Golden Globe, she has been nominated for a dozen Grammys, and she was named "Entertainer of the Century" by Billboard magazine, and the Guinness Book of World Records declared her the most successful female musical artist of the 20th century-with 70 hit singles. It's no exaggeration. "Diana Ross long ago moved from mere success to the status of a classic," The Washington Post once stated and concluded that Ross and the Supremes, together with Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, were America's strongest and most successful line of the defense against the powerful music of the British Invasion. More than holding her own, she showed the world all the gentleness, elegance and romance of American music, cutting across racial and cultural lines at a time of social strife.

Diana Ross was born in 1944 in Detroit's rough Brewster-Douglass Projects, the second of six siblings. She was only 15 when she teamed up with her neighborhood friends Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard and Betty McGlown and formed a do-wop quartet called The Primettes-a sister group to the then new Detroit sensation The Primes, who later became The Temptations. Motown Records spotted The Primettes, changed the lineup, renamed them The Supremes in 1961, made music history: Ten Supremes songs became number one hits in the Billboard Hot 100 between 1964 and 1967. When Cindy Birdsong replaced Florence Ballard, the group officially changed to Diana Ross and The Supremes-and the Holland-Dozier-Holland hits continued, alongside refreshing new interpretations of everything from Rodgers and Hart to the latest buzz from Carnaby Street. In 1969, as Ross readied to launch a solo career, she also began a pattern of encouraging young talent by introducing the Jackson 5 to national audiences. Her final single with The Supremes was "Someday We'll be Together" in 1970.

Then came a big surprise for her fans, as Ross tackled the role of Billie Holiday in the biographical picture Lady Sings the Blues. Her emotionally shattering musical and dramatic performance proved to be one great artist's fitting tribute to another, a brilliant chapter in the Holiday jazz tradition as well as a new facet of Ross' own career. An Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe nod followed, and the soundtrack album went number one, selling 300,000 in the first eight days or release alone. Then Sidney Lumet's The Wiz, about which Gary Arnold in The Washington Post disarmingly wrote simply: "Hallelujah!... You come out of this movie feeling blissfully moved and glad to be alive."

That gladness has informed all of Diana Ross's body of work. Honored around the world, named France's Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, selling out concerts from the Kremlin Palace in Moscow to Madison Square Garden in New York, giving a Royal Command Performance in London before Her Majesty the Queen, helping children everywhere through her work on the board of directors of A Better Chance. This lady doesn't just sing the blues. She sings pure joy.

September 2007
Diana Ross