DIANA ROSS / “Diana Ross Mixtape”
Brothers and Sisters – The Supremes!That was a little sweet&sour joke some of us used to tell ourselves to explain both our embrace and rejection of Diana Ross.
Ladies and Gentlemen – Diana Ross & The Supremes
Beautiful People Put Your Hands Together For The Boss – Ms. Diana Ross
I know some people will not get it but the point is that as we move up the economic ladder we become less of a group and more of an individual going for self. Given structural capitalism and the way the entertainment industry works, the transformation is almost inevitable.
Or, when we have next to nothing, we are willing to share a lot; when we get hold of a lot, we share very little.
Ok, that’s the rejection part.
Oh, wait a minute, I do need to drop another poison pill in the well of mass acceptance. Question: who was Beyonce before Beyonce? Ok, now class is over.
But on the other hand, as I was putting this Mixtape together I had to own up to my admiration for Ms. Ross’ range and talent, especially given that she’s not working with the best instrument in the world.
Sometimes her voice can be annoying in its nasal thinness, but despite the technical deficiencies, I kept noticing how she carried a tune, injecting little whoops, giggles, asides, or whatever. No matter what she sings she leaves her fingerprint on the song and that is part of her greatness.
Additionally, there were the non-musical elements which she worked for all they were worth. Diana never had voluptuousness to sling around, and except for her magnetizing eyes she wasn’t especially pretty. Yet she was sexy as hell.
Some thought it was the hair. No man I knew thought it was her body. Perhaps the way she worked those lips, her pouts accented by those big-eyed looks she could drop.
(I know this sounds a bit much for a music review, but “the bit much” is precisely what made her music so strong.) My immediate reference is Eartha Kitt. Similar look. Same sex-kitten shtick.
Musically there was the fact that while at Motown she had a hell of a stable of writers, coaches, cohorts and a Svengali mentor supporting her every move. She then made the move to movies when Motown went west trying to grab a piece of Hollywood.
I remember when it was announced that Diana Ross was going to play Billie Holiday. You had a better chance convincing me to invest in purchasing the Brooklyn Bridge. There was no way. Except when the movie came out, even if my anti-Ross prejudice had me searching for flaws with an emotional microscope, I had to admit she pulled it off—not great, but far from awful.
Listening now over thirty years later, I still have some quibbles and reservations, but yet there is something in the way she wears Billie’s music as though it were written for her. Listen at how Ms. Ross delves into “Strange Fruit,” which is about as far away from Supremes era Motown music as one can get within the genre of Black music. Diana Ross goes almost a cappella, only a few discreetly placed, soft piano notes offering the barest of support.
Listening to "Strange Fruit" it is obvious that Diana Ross has real emotional depth. The question is where does this seriousness come from? I maintain we may never know at what cost Ms. Ross became Ms. Ross. All she went through, those transformations; dealing with those men, yeah especially Barry Gordy. All the daggers thrown at her back as she clawed her way onward, forward, upward.
And then over ten years after the Lady Sings The Blues movie Diana does a one woman showcase of Billie Holiday material supported by top class jazz musicians. I think the lady wanted to be taken seriously as an artist. In retrospect she has delivered a body of work that says, like me or loathe me, you’re going to respect my talent.
Lady Sings The Blues (1972) won Ms. Ross an Academy Award (Oscar) nomination. That success was followed by Mahogany (1975), an attempt to repeat the success of the Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams combination. Without going deeply into the behind the scenes intrigue that included a walk out by Ms. Ross after Barry Gordy took over as director and had to use a body double to complete the film, Mahogany was another milestone in the Diana Ross Hollywood saga.
The 1975 Mahogany imbroglio, unbelievably, was followed by the even higher intrigue of The Wiz (1978) when Diana Ross somehow persuaded the Hollywood powers that be to hire her to play the part over the younger presumed favorite, Stephanie Mills, who had success in the Broadway version. The producers even changed the part of Dorothy from a schoolgirl to a school teacher in order to make the film a better fit for Diana Ross. The film ended up as a box office loss initially even though it ultimately was profitable.
Lady Sings The Blues was one of Diana Ross’ best albums both in terms of sales and in terms of critical reception. The movie Mahogany succeeded commercially and the theme song was a number one hit. And of course The Wiz dropped that fabled injunction: “Ease On Down The Road.” However, The Wiz was the end of the road for Diana Ross as a major force in Hollywood.
And then came the hook up with the Chic crew and the whole diva-dominance of the disco scene. Some of those songs can still fill a dance floor the moment the needle drops.
There are those who are crazy about Diana Ross. And then, there are those like me who are more reserved. Regardless of whether you are a fan or someone only mildly interested, in the final analysis, if we have ears and are willing to listen and honestly respond, we will give due props and much respect to our Detroit diva: Diana Ross.
Brothers and sisters, ladies and gentlemen, beautiful people, Diana Ross sings something for each of us, for all of us. And she does it well, with a vivacious élan that makes her music ultimately irresistible.
The last track on the Mixtape is a remix single that I encountered as I searched the internet looking for different versions of some of Diana’s disco work. I really dig this version of “Reach Out And Touch.” Although it is the arrangement that hooks me, a second and third listen convinced me: without reservation, Diana Ross is really a boss of popular music.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Diana Ross Mixtape Playlist
The Definitive Collection
01 “Where Did Our Love Go” – The Supremes
02 “Stop! In The Name Of Love” – The Supremes
03 “Come See About Me” – The Supremes
04 “Baby Love” – The Supremes
05 “I Hear A Symphony” – The Supremes
06 “My World Is Empty Without You” – The Supremes
07 “Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart” – The Supremes
08 “You Can't Hurry Love” – The Supremes
09 “You Keep Me Hangin' On” – The Supremes
10 “Reflections” – Diana Ross & The Supremes
11 “I'm Gonna Make You Love Me” – Diana Ross & The Supremes
12 “Love Child” – Diana Ross & The Supremes
13 “Someday We'll Be Together” – Diana Ross & The Supremes
Lady Sings The Blues soundtrack
14 “Billie & Harry / Don't Explain”
15 “Don't Explain”
16 “The Arrest”
17 “Lady Sings The Blues”
The Lady Sings Jazz and Blues: Stolen Moments
18 “Ain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do”
19 “The Man I Love”
20 “Good Morning Heartache”
21 “Love Is Here To Stay”
22 “My Man”
23 “You've Changed”
24 “Strange Fruit”
25 “God Bless The Child”
26 “Fine And Mellow”
The Ultimate Collections
27 “Touch Me In The Morning”
28 “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)”
29 “Endless Love”
Diana (Deluxe Edition)
30 “I'm Coming Out (Chic mix)”
31 “Upside Down (Chic mix)”
32 “Love Hangover (Ext Alternate mix)”
33 “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody's Hand)” – Almighty Presents We Love Diana Ross (The Remix Collection)
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