African-American musical superstar Diana Ross may well be a by-product of the almost crippling shyness she has suffered since childhood. Reportedly, it took a lot out of young Ross to work up the courage to sing in her church choir; but once she decided that music was to be her bread and butter, there was no stopping her. With Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson, Ross formed the now-legendary R&B "girl group" the Supremes, which was elevated from a local Detroit attraction to international renown by Motown Records maven Berry Gordy. When Florence Ballard was replaced by Cindy Birdsong in 1967, the group's name was changed to Diana Ross and the Supremes (which it had essentially been all along). Ross struck out on her own in 1969; within 12 months, her popularity was such that she was voted Entertainer of the Year by the NAACP. In 1972, she made her long-anticipated film debut in Lady Sings the Blues, delivering a bravura performance as blues great Billie Holliday. Nominated for an Oscar, Ross lost the statuette to Liza Minnelli, but did take home a Golden Globe Award. Her follow-up attempts at film stardom were major disappointments: Mahogany (1975) was utterly forgettable save for its signature tune "Do You Know Where You're Going To," while The Wiz (1978) suffered from bad casting decisions and an utter lack of a consistent style. Despite her failures on the big screen, Ross continued to excel as a recording artist. She floundered a bit when she left Motown in 1980, but was back on top the following year after signing with RCA. In 1977, Diana won a Tony Award for her starring Broadway revue, and in 1988 she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Diana Ross showed no signs of slowing down in the 1990s: in 1993, she wrote a book titled Secrets of a Sparrow; in 1994, she made her TV-movie acting debut, playing a paranoid schizophrenic in the commendable Out of Darkness; and in 1996, she was center of attention in what was arguably one of the most spectacular Super Bowl half-time shows ever conceived. She would try her hand at acting again in 1999's Double Platinum, acting as executive producer on that project as well.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Originally formed a group called the Primettes in her housing project. In 1967, they were renamed Diana Ross and the Supremes and went on to score 12 No. 1 pop hits.
- Made her TV debut that same year on Tarzan playing a nun.
- In 1970, after leaving the Supremes, she released her first solo hits "Reach Out and Touch" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."
- Earned an Oscar nod for her film debut playing legendary singer Billie Holiday in 1972's Lady Sings the Blues.
- Despite her initial cinematic success, her two subsequent movies were flops: 1975's Mahogany and 1978's The Wiz. She did little acting after that.
- Was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.
- Released her autobiography, Secrets of a Sparrow, in 1993.
- Is a spokesperson for National Children's Day, which gives young people the chance to share their hopes and concerns with America's leaders.
- Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2016.
- Nominated for 12 Grammy Awards—but has never won.