′Female Entertainer of the Century′ | Music | DW | 25.03.2014
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'Female Entertainer of the Century'

Hailed around the globe, she got an entire generation moving on the dance floor. There's hardly a prize Diana Ross hasn't won in her 50-year career. On March 26, the soul and pop icon turns 70.

It all got started in Detroit between a boxing studio and the gates of a Ford factory in the "Black Bottom" ghetto. The new record label Motown was based there, and a certain Diana Ernestine Ross came in looking for a job as a singer. Instead, label head Berry Gordy gave her a job as a secretary.

Second chance

She would ultimately get her chance together with fellow office assistants in a back-up choir. In 1961, Ross and school friends Florence Ballard and Mary Wildon introduced themselves to her boss. Berry Gordy changed the soul trio's name from the Primettes to the Supremes and put them under contract.

After eight unsuccessful singles, "Where Did Our Love Go" became the Supremes' first hit in 1964 - the first of many chart-toppers. In their nine years together, the group sold around 25 million records and were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. It's hard to believe Motown employees used to mock them as the "no-hit Supremes" during their rough start.

Singers Mary Wilson, Diana Ross and Cindy Birdsong

The Supremes without Florence Ballard: Mary Wilson, Diana Ross and Cindy Birdsong (l to r)

Stellar solo career

The fact that Diana Ross increasingly took center stage led to problems with the fellow trio members, and the 26-year-old embarked on a solo career in 1970. Her innocent bob hairdo gave way to a curly mane, the dresses grew tighter and the jewelry sparkled more brightly. Developing her own glamorous style, Ross landed in the charts with "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."

In the years that followed, Diana Ross sang and acted her way to dazzling star status. Unifying the passion of soul, the power of funk and flashy disco culture, her voice came to stand for an entire era in pop culture. In 1972 she debuted in the role of Billie Holiday in the Hollywood biopic "The Lady Sings the Blues" and won a Golden Globe for her acting. Three years later she starred in "Mahogany" and charted at number one with the title song, "Do You Know Where You're Going To."

Ross went on to conquer Broadway, getting her own show, and worked closely with other global stars like Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson - with whom she formed a close friendship. Her hit "Muscles" is one of many songs that he wrote for his famous pal.

Singer Diana Ross at a VH1 ceremony

There's hardly a showbiz prize Ross hasn't been considered for

The whims of a diva

One of the most legendary moments in her career came with a 1983 open air concert in New York's Central Park for an audience of 750,000. Despite the rain, Diana Ross and her powerful voice kept fans in thrall, sticking it out until the end. Performances like those led many to forgive or ignore the superstar's reputed diva-like moodiness.

In the 1990s, things quieted down. Her recordings no longer broke into the top 100 in the US, but Ross didn't recoil. She proved her talents as a business woman, buying into the Motown label where she had begun her career a quarter of a century earlier. Later, she founded Ross Records.

In 1996, she was honored in Monte Carlo with the World Music Award for her lifetime achievements, and "Billboard Magazine" even named her the Female Entertainer of the Century.

Diana Ross has been often asked for her take on her countless successes. In response, she says, "I really, deeply believe that dreams do come true. Often, they might not come when you want them. They come in their own time."

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