Diana Ross (born Diane Ernestine Earle Ross on March 26, 1944) is a twelve-time Grammy and Oscar-nominated American singer, record producer and actress, whose musical repertoire spans R&B, soul, pop, disco, and jazz. During the 1960s, she shaped the sound of popular music and Motown Records as front women of The Supremes before leaving for a solo career in the beginning of 1970.
During the 1970s and through the mid 1980s, Ross was the most successful female artist of the rock era, while crossing over into film, television and Broadway winning a Tony Award for her one-woman show, An Evening with Diana Ross in 1977, and being nominated for twelve Grammy Awards and an Academy Award for Best Actress for her 1972 role as Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues. She was also recently honored by The Kennedy Center.
In 1976, Billboard magazine named her the female entertainer of the century. Guinness World Records declared Diana Ross as the most successful female music artist of the 20th century with a total of eighteen American number-one singles: twelve as lead singer of The Supremes and six as a solo artist. Ross was the first female solo artist to score six number-ones. She is also one of the few artists to have two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame—one as a solo artist and the other as a member of the Supremes.
Including her work with the Supremes, Ross has recorded approximately 57 studio albums. In 1999, as a solo artist, she was ranked #38 on VH1's "The 100 Greatest Women in Rock and Roll", while The Supremes ranked #16.
In 1961, having already replaced McGlown with Barbara Martin, the quartet auditioned for and eventually signed with Motown Records. During the group's struggling early years, all but one of the singles the group released were all sung by Ross, whose nasal mezzo soprano contrasted with founder Florence Ballard's brassier soprano, Mary Wilson's punchier alto and Martin's raspy contralto. Between 1961 and 1963, the group were known jokingly as the "no-hit Supremes".
After Martin's exit in 1962, the group would remain a trio throughout its tenure. In 1963, Motown CEO Berry Gordy made Ross the official lead singer of the group after several years of group mates trading leads, because he felt the group could crossover to the pop charts with Ross' higher, and appealing, nasal quality. Initially, this decision was not an issue by Ross' band mates, until a few years later, when it became obvious that Ross was the focal point of the group; Ballard, in particular, took extreme issue. Despite difficulties, after The Supremes hit number-one with "Where Did Our Love Go", a song rejected by The Marvelettes, the group found unpreceedent success. Between August 1964 and May 1967, Ross, Wilson and Ballard sung on ten number-one hit singles.
After years of tension, Ballard was let go from the Supremes by Gordy and was replaced by Cindy Birdsong, a member of Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles. Around the same time, the group's name changed to Diana Ross and the Supremes to signify Ross' contributions and focal point as lead. Recording a total of twelve number-one singles, the Supremes became the most successful American vocal group of the sixties, and the second most successful group worldwide, second only to The Beatles.
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