...turned a fabulous 65 yesterday. Like the other misunderstood Great Lady, Joan Crawford, Diana Ross's famed temperament and legendary demands often overshadow her very real, very important contributions and talents. As the first black female superstar to achieve the level of celebrity previously only afforded whites, Diana Ross should be mentioned each night in the prayers of everyone from Halle Berry to Oprah Winfrey to Tyra Banks. She also, directly or indirectly, influenced and paved the way for at least three generations of singers, from Donna Summer to Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson to Madonna, Beyonce to Rhianna. Indeed, Diana Ross nearly single-handedly invented and defined what we now accept as the template for the "pop diva."
No one would ever accuse Diana Ross of being Motown's best or most soulful singer; but she had, and still has, a precise, crisp, completely accessible style. Motown mogul Berry Gordy's favorite singer was Doris Day, of all people, because of her conversational style and perfect enunciation: you can hear how this influenced his shaping of Ross's sound.
Love her or hate her (and both camps are legion), Diana Ross simply cannot be denied. Her name was written in stone in the pantheon of greats long, long ago. Much of the mean-spiritedness with which so many of her colleagues, music historians, and her successors disparage her name and reputation can be traced to the fact that not only did Diana Ross have the audacity to be black and beautiful, but she also made it seem so easy -- and she wasn't sentimental about cutting her losses and leaving people behind who couldn't help her achieve her goals. How dare she!
At the end of the day, however, the numbers and tallies don't lie: nearly 50 years in the business, 18 Number One hits, an Oscar nomination, a special Tony, a Kennedy Center Honor, Billboard magazine's "Entertainer of the Century" citation, two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame... why shouldn't we bow down and call her Miss Ross?
MISS DIANA ROSS
March 26, 1944
March 26, 1944