Louder Than War’s Eileen Shapiro interviews the iconic Diana Ross.
There are no words in the English language worthy of describing the remarkable person and career of one of the leading and most glamorous, epic goddesses that has ever graced the music industry. Named “Female Entertainer of the CENTURY” by Billboard, Ms. Diana Ross will be appearing at the New York City Center 24-26 April 2017, showcasing her Endless Memories tour.
With a musical, songwriting, acting, and producing career that spans more than six decades, she has influenced numerous artists, including: Beyoncé, Michael Jackson, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez, and countless others. Celebrating an endless legacy, encompassing the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, the recipient of two stars on The Hollywood Walk of Fame, and declared the most successful female artist in history by the Guinness Book of World Records, is impressive enough for several lifetimes, yet there is more. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Ms Ross is also the recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Kennedy Center Honors. As a Supreme she helped pave the way for other R&B stars to perform mainstream. Her music and talent touched the life of nearly everyone living on Earth.
Rather than sound like a high school biography report, briefly: Diane Ross was born and raised in Detroit, where she joined Primettes at age 15, along with Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Betty McGlown. The journey began following a talent competition victory in Ontario, followed by the group then auditioning for Motown Records. According to an autobiography by Berry Gordy, he recalled heading to a meeting when he heard Ross singing, There Goes My Baby. Although he said “I stopped in my tracks” he advised them to come back after graduation because of their ages. In 1961 Gordy signed them to the label on the condition that they changed the name of the group. Ballard picked the Supremes and during the ’60s they became Motown’s most successful act, and still are to this day in America, as well as being one of the world’s best-selling female groups.
As the Supremes, the group enjoyed 12 number one hit singles including: Where Did Our Love Go? You Can’t Hurry Love, You Keep Me Hanging On, Love Child, and Stop! In The Name of Love. In 1970 Ross left the group and began an epic solo career singing hits such as: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Touch Me in the Morning, I’m Coming Out and Upside Down. Ross also embarked on an acting career, where she was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in the film Lady Sings the Blues. She starred in (as well as designed costumes for) Mahogany, and co-starred in The Wiz.
In 1974, Ross became the first African-American woman to co-host the 46th Academy Awards. Ross also sang the Star Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl XVl. Motown 25 in 1983, aired as a monumental television special, honoring Motown, with Diana Ross introducing Berry Gordy, after Mary Wilson attempted to upstage her. It included landmark performances by artists such as: Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson, and my favorite, Adam Ant, who danced with Diana during his showcase of Where Did Our Love Go?.
In 1984, Ms. Ross recorded Missing You, a tribute to Marvin Gaye who had died that year. It became an international hit. She was also appointed by Michael Jackson to be an alternate guardian for his children. Her final hit for Motown was a collaboration with Lionel Richie on the theme song for the film Endless Love.
Aside from the fame and glory, Ms. Ross has also raised five children, and at this time congratulations goes out to daughter, Tracee Ellis Ross for her recent Golden Globe Award. Ross also has four grandchildren.
‘The Queen of Motown,’ still loved and cherished by all, has also been saluted at Oprah Winfrey’s Legend Ball, a three day event celebrating contributions to art and entertainment. Diana was one of 25 African-American women honored. She was also named one of the Five Mighty Pop Divas of the 60’s.
A playground was to be named in her honor, built with the proceeds of her concert in Central Park, for a Showtime special. However it rained so heavily on the day that although Ross tried to continue, the torrential downpour made it impossible. Ross made sure people left the venue safely, and promised to do it over the next day; she held true to her word. She also ended up paying the $150,000 required to build the ‘Diana Ross Playground,’ as the profits were absorbed by having to repeat the concert the following day.
Now, New York is fortunate to have her back in the city for five special nights of magical splendor, at NY City Center for an astounding and eloquent journey of Endless Memories. Needless to say, one of the high points of my career is when I was completely honored to interview Ms. Ross about her up and coming performance.
Louder Than War: The very thought of your upcoming appearance at the New York Center is turning all of New York Upside Down! Can you give us a tiny hint of what your fans can expect?
Pure authentic Diana Ross.
You’re an iconic singer coming to an iconic city. After your famous concert in Central Park, is there any special connection that you have to New York?
I love New York! Remember the song New York State of Mind? New York is an energy. It’s a classy sophistication. It’s alive 24/7. It’s magical. I think it’s true that this city never sleeps. You can be out at 4am in the morning and the streets are filled with people going somewhere and doing things. Fantastic!
I do love the diversity and the different cultures of New York. I love all the museums. The great restaurants, so many variations. I really love going to the theatre. Going shopping. I love Rizzoli’s bookstore. I love the art world. And of course, I love the fashion world! I really love that you can be a celebrity and walk down the streets of New York and you’re just one of the millions of people moving through the energy.
How would someone in the New York audience get your ‘special attention?’
Let your hair down! And have fun, don’t be shy, dance if you feel like it. I see you, you see me!
How is it that at a time when today’s pop crop can’t stay relevant for 50 minutes, you have managed to remain relevant for 50 years? What is your secret to long term success?
What secret? I don’t know. Your questions make me laugh.
Do you believe that your career would have ended up as it did had you have started out today as a new artist trying to make it in today’s internet and social media world?
That, I don’t know.
You have achieved almost every single award known to mankind, from the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to having two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, to being named, ‘Female Entertainer of the Century.’ You are a singer, an actress, a producer, a mom, a grandmother, is there anything that you haven’t accomplished that you still dream of doing.
Is there any song or musical passage that never fails to evoke emotion?
The word “LOVE ” and all its meanings.
Speaking of Endless Memories, what do you feel was the instance that changed the trajectory of your life?
I’ve always been on my path. The journey has been absolutely incredible.
Also speaking of Endless Memories, do you recall the proudest moment of your career?
OH MY !! I’ve been singing and dancing and loving music all my life
Diana Ross – Endless Memories tour is in New York from 24-26 April. Tickets available on Ticketmaster
All words by Eileen Shapiro. More of Eileen’s writing can be found in her author’s archive.