The Original Dreamgirl
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again the word diva has gotten way out of hand. Since when is a teenaged girl that makes a couple of hit records a diva? For me, the term has to be earned, and no one has earned that title more than the female boss herself, Diana Ross.
A household name since her first #1 hit with The Supremes almost 43 years ago, Ross has managed to maintain her status as one of the most intriguing and glamorous artists of the late 20th century. The Supremes had the second most #1 singles of the 60's (12 #1 singles which included five consecutive #1's from 1964-65). In August 1962, three girls from the Brewster Projects in Detroit, Michigan, (Diana, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson) had their first chart hit (“Your Heart Belongs To Me”) shortly after Ross’ 18th birthday. For two years, The Supremes and Motown kept distributing single after single but the songs weren’t catching on at Top 40 radio. The Supremes became famously known to their label mates as “The No Hit Supremes.” They finally cracked the Top Thirty with their single “When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes,” peaking at #23 at the end of 1963. It wasn’t until the summer of 1964 when “Where Did Our Love Go?” rocketed straight to the top of the charts, and there was no turning back. They followed with four more consecutive #1’s, “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Stop! In The Name Of Love” and “Back In My Arms Again,” all released one to three months apart. Within a year “The No Hit Supremes” had only one rival, The Beatles, and that’s the way it remained until the end of the decade.
Throughout the next few years the drama between Ross and Ballard played out like a soap opera. For all of the people that blamed Ross for Ballard’s misfortune, they were clearly out of line. For all of the people who claim that Dreamgirls is “loosely based” on The Supremes, they’re dreaming themselves. Dreamgirls is clearly the saga of The Supremes, and if anyone is to be held responsible for the success of Ross and the demise of Ballard’s career, it’s the founder of Motown Records, Berry Gordy, Jr. himself. Just like the stage and current film musical, when “Effie” (Florence) became more unhappy with her role of playing backup to Ross’ rising star, she slowly became further detached from the trio and was eventually replaced in 1967 by singer Cindy Birdsong (who was an original member of Patti LaBelle’s group, The Blue-Belles). This not only came as a surprise to Ballard, but the downward spiral of her life that had already begun started to unravel faster than the Supremes were making hit records. The group was renamed Diana Ross & The Supremes. As Diana made the transition from lead singer of The Supremes to a solo a career in 1970, Ballard became more despondent, heavily relying on alcohol and ending up on welfare before dying of a heart attack at age 32 in 1976. It’s no wonder that the story of Dreamgirls has become a thorn in Ross’ side. While she cared deeply about her friend, it wasn’t her decision that had Ballard dismissed. Ross may have been the star, but she didn’t hold the purse strings. Gordy did. At the same time as Ballard’s sad descent into oblivion, Ross had become the #2 best selling and charting female solo recording artist, with twenty-three charted hits before the end of that decade. With and without the Supremes, Diana has scored 18 #1 charted singles in the US and 23 #1’s in the UK. At the same time, she had become an accomplished actress, scoring a Best Actress nomination portraying jazz legend Billie Holiday in the film Lady Sings The Blues. Ross continued with only three more feature films in the 70’s and turned to television with award-winning concert specials and films that would encompass her professional life up until the end of the century. Ironically, Ross’ last studio album was in 1999, entitled Every Day Is A New Day, and she hasn’t released a new recording since…until now.
See Archives CD Reviews for the review Of Diana Ross’ latest release, I Love You.
© 2007 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.