Diana_Ross_1976If the word “diva” stands for a woman who has fearlessly pursued her dreams, unapologetically built a successful career, and brilliantly reinvented herself again and again, then by all means call Diana Ross a diva. But you must also call her one of the greatest and most influential entertainers of the last five decades.

Diana Ernestine Earle Ross was born on March 26, 1944, in Detroit, Michigan to a school teacher and former army sergeant. While living in the Brewster-Douglas housing projects during her teens, Diana attended Cass Technical High School where she took seamstress classes and aspired to be a fashion designer. When neighborhood group the Primes (later the Temptations) wanted an all-girl ensemble to accompany them, Diana joined The Primettes at only 15. The quartet consisted of Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Betty McGlown (replaced by Barbara Martin), who all knew each other from Brewster-Douglas.

By 1960, Martin left the group and the trio managed to get an audition with Motown honcho Berry Gordy Jr. thanks to Diana’s neighbor and friend Smokey Robinson.  At the time Gordy thought the girls were too young, but a year later he would sign them to the label as The Supremes.

Eventually, Diana’s “it-factor” would shine through. She had the beauty, the angelic voice, and the charisma, and it was those qualities that made Gordy select Diana as the lead singer and later rechristen the group “Diana Ross and The Supremes.” The trio would become one of the most successful groups ever, scoring 12 chart-topping songs from 1961 to 1969, including Baby Love, Where Did Our Love Go?, Come See About Me, Stop! In the Name of Love, Reflections, and Someday We’ll Be Together.

But Diana, fully aware of her star quality, left the group in 1969 to pursue a solo career and enjoyed remarkable success for many years.  In 1970, she teamed up with songwriting couple Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson who helped her create four Top 40 pop songs, including the No. 1 pop and R&B hit, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.

In 1972 she set her sights on acting and landed the leading role in the Billie Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues co-starring Billy Dee Williams. The film was a box office hit, and Diana received an Academy Award nomination for her riveting performance as Holiday.

Three years later, she teamed up with Williams again to star in Mahogany (which featured Diana’s hit song Do You Know Where You’re Going To) and then starred in The Wiz with close friend Michael Jackson in 1978. In between films, she released a handful of albums and had much success with the smash hit Love Hangover, a sexy, breathy 1976 dance track.

The ‘80s was a strong decade for Diana. Her platinum eponymous album featured the sassy No. 1 hit Upside Down and the energetic, Top 5 smash I’m Coming Out. In 1981 she reached No. 1 again on the charts with Endless Love, a beautiful duet with Lionel Richie and her last hit on Motown.

Diana released the album Why Do Fools Fall in Love that same year on RCA and Silk Electric in 1982, which featured the Top 10 single Muscles, written and produced by Michael Jackson. She released Swept Away in September of 1984, which featured the hit song Missing You, a touching tribute to Marvin Gaye.

Diana returned to Motown in the late ’80s and released the albums Workin’ Overtime in 1989 and The Force Behind the Power in 1991.

She returned to acting in 1994, but this time on the small screen with Out of Darkness and then Double Platinum, co-starring Brandy in 1999 and featuring a few songs from Diana’s 1999 album Every Day is a New Day. Diana continued to work in the 2000s, releasing Blue, a jazz album from the Motown archives, and I Love You in 2007, a collection of classic love songs.

With dozens of chart-topping songs, a Golden Globe, a Tony, several American Music Awards, sold out tours, and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (as part of the Supremes), Diana Ross’ phenomenal career has made her a national and international icon. From Beyoncé to Katy Perry, there is a little bit of Diana in a many of today’s biggest female artists and it’s not easy following in the footsteps of a diva like her.

“It takes a long time to get to be a diva,” Diana has said. “I mean, you gotta work at it.”

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