By Jessica Jones, Copy Editor
[Photo via Spotify]
Who did the Guinness Book of World Records declare as the most successful female artist in history? Who has their name on not one but two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? Who did Billboard proclaim was the “Entertainer of The Century”?
None other than the fabulous Diana Ross, people! What hasn’t this woman accomplished?
As one of the most recognizable and celebrated voices in music history, Ross, is well-known for her success with the best charting female group in U.S. history, The Supremes, as well as her sensational solo career. Born March 26, 1944, in Detroit, Michigan, Ross began her career as a singer in 1960. She has been on stages and televisions across the globe, not only as a singer but as an actress, star of her own television special and author of her autobiography, “Secrets of a Sparrow.”
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At only 15, Ross joined the Primettes, a sister group to the male group, the Primes. Because she was so young, producers often turned her away once they learned of her age, but she was told to return to the studios after graduating high school.
Growing up, her childhood neighbor was William “Smokey” Robinson, who became a successful singer and producer. He insisted that the Primettes audition for him first and struck them a deal; he’d bring the group to Motown in exchange for their guitarist because he needed one for an upcoming tour.
The Primettes agreed, and although the girls were still too young to be officially produced, they frequently sang backing vocals for other artists including Marvin Gaye and would fill in for claps and other instrumental parts.
Finally, in January 1961, the founder of Motown Records, Berry Gordy, agreed to sign the group under the condition that they would change their name. Group member Florence Ballard was the only one in the studio at the time and was handed a list of names and told to pick one. She chose the Supremes because it was the only group that didn’t end with an “-ette.”
By the end of the year, Ross was assigned lead vocals with Ballard and Mary Wilson as backing vocals. Despite the group evolving over the years, Ross always remained lead vocalist. Due to that, the group’s name was later amended to Diana Ross & The Supremes.
Some of their earliest hits include “Where Did Our Love Go”, which reached No. 1 on the U.S. pop charts and No. 3 in the U.K., and “Baby Love” was nominated for best R&B song at the 1965 Grammy Awards.
The Supremes are known for their stunning live performances and the glamorous outfits they wore. Their style of performance paved the way for future black singers; the sophisticated presence of the group coupled with Ross’ opulent voice had people glued to their television sets across the nation.
Polished and poised, the group continued to rise to fame and by 1965, they were international stars, becoming nearly as famous in the U.K. as they were stateside. With a new hit topping the charts nearly every year, the Supremes were active—there was nothing that this group couldn’t do.
Diana Ross’ legacy has inspired many popular artists over the years, including Michael Jackson, Beyoncé and Madonna. Many of her songs have been covered or sampled, especially the beloved ballad, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (a personal favorite).
She has earned 18 No. 1 singles and a total of 70 hit singles, is credited with discovering The Jackson Five and is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
She is the only female artist to date to have No. 1 singles as a solo artist, as the other half of a duet, as a trio member and as an ensemble member.
Various works have been inspired by her life and legacy, including Motown: The Musical and Dreamgirls. Many of her songs are also staples in current television shows and films.
While her accomplishments are vast and beyond impressive, Diana Ross still makes her occasional public appearance and still sings with a voice that sounds as young as ever. As one of the most important figures in music history, her story will continue to inspire listeners and musicians for many years to come.
Check out the Supremes’ 1965 live performance of “I Hear A Symphony” below