They never really miss you until you’re dead or you’re gone. While she’s on this Earth Diana Ross, the true Queen of all Pop music deserves her shine. Billboard bestowed the title of “Entertainer of the Century” upon this modern-day Josephine Baker in the 1970’s over kings like Frank Sinatra and even a young Michael Jackson. We know Diana may not be the greatest sanger of all time, but what Diana represents is the archetype for all R&B and Pop female artists, although they can never recreate the impact of her influence on the world. Her energy has inspired women all over the globe, and her story is one of grace, humility, and perseverance.
Sure Florence Ballard was the better singer in The Supremes. She had a soulful and rich voice that could bring people to tears. Berry Gordy not only saw his future babymomma in Diana, he saw a chance to change the perception of beauty in glamour in the eyes of the world. Diana was amongst the first darker skinned sisters to be seen as glamorous and beautiful in ways that only Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne were. Placing Diana as the frontwoman of the group instead of the sultry and curvaceous Florence was a decision that confused the group, but altered the course of history. The Supremes became the greatest and most emulated female group of all time, and Diana would have two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (singing AND acting) and eighteen number one singles in her career. Not bad for a girl from the projects in Detroit. Born Diane Ernestine Earle Ross in March of 1944, Diana always felt that she had a gift. Even in the poverty ridden Brewster-Douglass Projects of Detroit and having several brothers and sisters, Diana was named best dressed in her senior year. Always thinking forward, Diana graduated a year early and dreamed of becoming a fashion designer. Being in Detroit, the culture of doo wop and singing began to penetrate her soul. Diana hustled the streets of Detroit with her pre Supreme band mates meeting every and any one that had connections to music. She worked hard on her talents to get to the budding Motown Records and former boxer Berry Gordy.
Diana got the brunt of the teasing as the lead singer of the then “no hit” Supremes, the laughing stock of young Motown Records. Never discouraged, Diana worked even harder pulling late studio sessions and vibing with different producers until Motown struck gold with the sweet mix of Diana’s voice and Holland-Dozier-Holland instrumentals. Pioneers of the “Sound of Young America” the pop songs with R&B grooves took The Supremes off the “Chitlin Circuit” and into the homes of mainstream America with a frenzy only rivaled by The Beatles. Diana and The Supremes were portrayed not as church groomed, soul stirring singers that their contemporaries were, but as style icons with easy, breezy feel good music. Diana’s unique look, her wide doe eyes and ever-changing hair made her stand out amongst the rest of her group and the rest of the entertainment world. Even the mighty Beatles were humbled in the presence of the Queen. Although some fans and insiders saw her as cold and opportunistic, Diana Ross sent money to the family of Florence Ballard after her death. Once she left the group she made über famous, Diana’s role as Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues gave her an even higher profile. Keep in mind this was a time in the world where black people were still not considered equal to whites. In South Africa, Diana was one of the very first black women ever granted “honorary white status”, going even further as the chocolate angel broke down even more stereotypes across the world.Even as death, drugs, and tragedy gripped many artists she grew to work with and love, Diana stayed the course and turned her pain into number one hits like her ode to the great Marvin Gaye, Missing You.
Fellow Supreme Mary Wilson might say Diana elbowed her a few times on stage, but where would Mary Wilson be without “The Boss” Miss Ross? Her allure, glamour, and beauty inside and out made the world and Michael Jackson fall in love with her. Diana’s gift to the world was not just her voice, but her tenacity and fearless mining of her soul to become the best she could be. Thank God Diana didn’t just give up in the projects because success was too hard. The little light inside her that she always felt would not be dimmed by the racist climate of the times, or the feeling inferiority by someone else’s talent. Diana boldly went were no brown-skinned woman went before her laying foundations of success for everyone from Mariah Carey to Rihanna, and Erykah Badu to Beyonce. Diana’s legacy is one of triumph and excellence, trumping each shortcoming people said that she had. Not even Berry Gordy believed in Diana like Diana believed in Diana. Her quiet strength and undeniable work ethic made Diana Ross a survivor, but her fierce style and bright smile made her a star. Diana is royalty, and an inspiration still.