Today, in honor of her appearance TODAY on the Oprah Winfrey show…..

Ms. Diana Ross

One of the most widely-known female performers in the world since the 1960s, Diana Ross was born in Detroit and spent most of her childhood living in the city’s Brewster Housing Projects. Despite an extremely shy disposition, at a young age she began singing with the choir of her family’s church, and soon afterward became determined to establish herself as an entertainer. At the age of 15, Ross was invited to join a girl group being organized by manager Milton Jenkins as accompaniment for his doo-wop outfit The Primes; already enlisted into the group were three of her classmates and neighbors: Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson and Betty McGlown, and with Ross rounding the line-up out to a quartet, The Primettes set to work performing in local clubs and talent shows. Not long afterward Travis was replaced by Barbara Martin, at which time the group launched an aggressive campaign to secure a deal with Motown Records, spending as much time as possible hanging around in the label’s reception area.

It wasn’t until 1961 (after they had completed high school) that Motown label head Barry Gordy finally agreed to sign the four young women to a record deal — although with the stipulation that they find a different name for the group. Ballard came up with The Supremes, and it was under this name that their first single I Want a Guy appeared in April of that year. Neither this single nor the other three that were released between ’61 and ’62 fared particularly well; in fact, of the eight singles issued before August of 1964, only one (When the Love Light Starts Shining) managed to crack the top 30. With the release of Where Did Our Love Go, however, this slump was abruptly turned around: the song climbed to the top of the charts, and would be followed to this position by eight of the singles released during the next three years. By this time, Ross had fully assumed the role of The Supremes’ lead singer — a situation that was clearly established by the replacement of Florence Ballard (who sang lead on some of the earlier recordings) with Cindy Birdsong and an alteration of the group’s name to Diana Ross and The Supremes in 1967.

In November of 1969 Ross publicly announced her plans to leave The Supremes and embark upon a solo career, her eponymous first album subsequently materializing early in 1970.

Assisted by the talents of the production/songwriting duo Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, the singer maintained her presence in the charts with singles such as Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand). The albums Everything Is Everything (1970), Surrender (1971) solidified her standing as a solo artist, leading to the network television special Diana! in 1971, and paving the way for a move into acting as the star of the Billie Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues in 1972. Both Ross’ performance in the film and the accompanying soundtrack release were extremely well-received — the former earning her an Oscar nomination and the latter becoming her only full-length album to reach the #1 position. Her popularity continued to build throughout the middle of the decade with another chart-topping single (Touch Me In The Morning, 1973), an album of duets with labelmate Marvin Gaye (Diana and Marvin, 1973), and a second starring role (Mahogany, 1975, featuring the #1 song Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To?)).

As popular tastes fell under the sway of disco in the mid-1970’s, Ross adapted her own output accordingly, keeping herself in the charts with the dance single Love Hangover and a second eponymous full-length in 1976. A solo Broadway show staged the following year (later issued as the album An Evening with Diana Ross and adapted into a television special) broke attendance records and earned her a Tony award. She continued to straddle careers in several media at once with 1978’s big screen musical The Wiz in 1978, but with somewhat less glowing results; although the soundtrack (in particular her duet with Michael Jackson Ease On Down The Road) was typically successful, the film itself was not particularly well-received. The singer rounded out the end of the decade and started off the next one with two of her most acclaimed releases: 1979’s The Boss (reuniting her with the production team of Ashford and Simpson) and 1980’s Diana (produced by Chic mastermind Nile Rodgers).

Good Morning.

TGIF, and spend some of it here with us at JJP.

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