Family & Companions
A superstar for decades, Diana Ross was raised in Detroit. In high school she studied modeling and fashion design and at age 15 she joined the Primettes, the sister act of a male group called the Primes. The Primes evolved into the Temptations, and Berry Gordy signed both groups to his fledgling Motown label. The Temptations got successful relatively soon but the Primettes, now rechristened the Supremes, didn't do as well: They had seven consecutive flops before scoring a minor hit with "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes," then flopped again with its followup. But Gordy was particularly invested in Ross's career, later becoming romantically interested in her as well. He made Ross the full-time lead singer, pushing the other two Supremes, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson, further into the background. The Supremes' ninth single, 1964's "Where Did Our Love Go" was the game-changer: It hit Number One and ushered in a remarkable string of classic singles over rest of the decade, including eleven further Number Ones. As a black female group with a sophisticated image, they appealed to middle America and subtly advanced the cause of civil rights. The records were groundbreaking as well, absorbing psychedelia on 1967's "Reflections" and addressing controversial topics on 1968-69's "Love Child" and "I'm Living in Shame" (respectively about an illegitimate child and a teenage runaway). Tellingly the group's name was changed to "Diana Ross & the Supremes" in 1967 (at which time Ballard was replaced by Cindy Birdsong). However success continued until 1969 when they bowed out with another classic single, "Someday We'll Be Together"-which ironically featured session singers in place of the other two Supremes. Gordy's original plan was to groom Diana Ross and the remaining Supremes as separate star vehicles; in fact the Supremes started stronger out of the gate. "Up the Ladder to the Roof," their first with new singer Jean Terrell, charted higher than Ross's solo debut "Reach Out & Touch Somebody's Hand." However her followup-a ballad rework of the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell hit "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"-went Number One while the Supremes' hits trailed off. Ross was now developing her career as an all-around entertainer, making her movie debut in 1972's Billie Holiday biopic "Lady Sings the Blues" and playing another dramatic role in 1975's "Mahogany." However, Motown then threw its movie resources into "The Wiz" (1978), a can't-miss project that did indeed miss, losing $10 million despite Ross and Michael Jackson in starring roles. Though she did more acting over the years, she concentrated largely on music from then on. Notable later singles included 1976's disco hit "Love Hangover," 1980's "I'm Coming Out" (which her gay fanbase took as an anthem), 1981's "Endless Love" with Lionel Richie, and 1984's "Missing You," a memorial to Marvin Gaye. A 2000 Supremes reunion tour was less successful; due to behind-the-scenes squabbles she "reunited" only with two women who'd been Supremes after she'd left. She has toured successfully in the 2010's and began a Vegas residency in 2018.
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Joined the Primettes, later the Supremes
Two Primettes left group, and Ross continued singing with remaining two, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard
Trio is renamed The Supremes and signed by Motown's Berry Gordy Jr.
The Supremes made their first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" on Christmas Eve
Recorded Supremes smash, "Where Did Our Love Go"
First film appearance, with The Supremes singing two songs, including title song, in "Beach Ball"
The Supremes appeared at The Copacabana in July
"Love is Here and Now You're Gone", last single featuring Florence Ballard as group member, released in the spring
Group renamed Diana Ross & the Supremes
TV acting debut in guest appearance on "Tarzan"; Diana Ross and the Supremes portrayed nuns
Made final TV appearance with the Supremes on "The Ed Sullivan Show" on December 21
First solo hit, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"
Made final public appearance with the Supremes at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas on January 14
Performed in first hour-long TV special, "Diana", for NBC
Starred in "Lady Sings the Blues"
Death of Florence Ballard from a heart attack on February 21
Left Motown and signed with RCA and EMI/Capitol
Reunited with The Supremes for NBC special honoring Motown's 25-year history
Central Park charity concert outing scheduled for July rained out by major torrent while in performance
Mary Wilson's autobiography, "Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme", published
TV producing debut, the special "Diana Ross . . . Red Hot Rhythm and Blues"
Was played by actress Holly Robinson on the TV miniseries, "The Jacksons: An American Dream"
Received the French Commander of Arts and Letters medal; France's highest arts award
Made dramatic TV-movie debut, "Out of Darkness"; also executive produced
Co-starred with Brandy in the ABC TV-movie "Double Platinum"
Headlined a concert tour with the Supremes; original group members Florence Birdsong and Mary Wilson did not participate; tour cancelled after performances in 12 cities
Checked into Promises, a rehab center in Malibu before embarking on a summer tour; three months later cancelled tour altogether
"Blue" a never issued album recorded in 1972, was released (June) after its discovery in the Motown vault