First posted 25 July 2020
After the success of her first film “Lady Sings the Blues” in 1972, Diana Ross returned to the day job. Three Diana Ross albums were released in 1973, “Touch Me in the Morning”, “Diana & Marvin” (with Marvin Gaye) and “Last Time I Saw Him”.
The second of Ross’ three films was released in 1975 and presented Ross with a new challenge, acting the part of someone who was not a singer! The film was directed by Berry Gordy, who took over when Tony Richardson left the project. The male leads were Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Perkins and Jean-Pierre Aumont.
“Mahogany” is a romantic drama that tells the story of a poor young black girl from Chicago who dreams of being a famous fashion designer. Her boyfriend is an aspiring political activist who wants to improve the lives of people in his neighbourhood. He is not impressed by the shallowness of the fashion industry. When Ross’ character Tracy meets an American fashion photographer who wants to take her to Rome, she agrees to go, leaving her boyfriend in Chicago. Of course, fate smiles on her and, with the professional name Mahogany, Tracy becomes a supermodel in Rome. But is she happy? Does she go back to boyfriend Brian in Chicago? It wouldn’t be fair to say, would it!
Following the pattern set by “Lady Sings the Blues”, a soundtrack album was released, featuring the film’s theme song and other instrumental pieces from the film.
“Mahogany” (1975) was co-produced by Michael Masser and Gil Askey. The first track released from “Mahogany” was the “Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)”. The single was a tremendous success upon release, topping several singles chart listings, including the Billboard Pop Adult Contemporary Singles Chart week-ending 6th December 1975 (1 week), the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart week-ending 24th January 1976 (1 week) and the Cash Box Top 100 Singles Chart week-ending 10th January 1976 (1 week). Miss Ross sings with full command and great elegance, backed by a full orchestra. Strangely, neither the single nor the album have received any certifications in the UK or America, despite the fact that the single reached the top of the charts. Its life at the top was short-lived, but it is one of most beautiful songs of Diana Ross’ career so far.
The track “Cat Fight” is a beautiful instrumental that starts with a jazz fusion sound typical of the 1970s, the sort of jazz funk music that would have been played by Miles Davis, Quincy Jones and leading jazz funk performers. The track, which lasts for just over one minute, was written and brilliantly produced by Gil Askey who captured a dynamic scene in the movie. The instrumentation consists of woodwind and bass instruments, underscored by strings, with percussion instruments in the background.
The track entitled “Tracy” shows Gil Askey’s brilliance as a composer, arranger and producer, highlighting his ability to capture atmosphere, emotions and the feelings of a particular character in the movie through the solo performances of saxophone and flute accompanied by rhythm guitar, standing bass and the soft touch of drums, together creating a laid-back summer afternoon, the enjoyment of a glass of sweet wine, overlooking the city’s landscape.
“Mahogany Suite” explodes with tremendous power in an up-tempo beat for half a minute then slows down with full orchestration, turning into a classical masterpiece of divine elegance and passion, like an extract from a Tchaikovsky symphony. The track was co-written by Michael Masser and Gerry Goffin (as was the “Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where Going To)”). It makes you feel like you are walking through the beautiful garden of a well-kept British mansion during a summer evening of long ago when life was free and not so stressful!
“Feeling Again” is another instrumental track, in the same vein as “Mahogany Suite” which was mixed or incorporated into “Mahogany Suite” with great results.
“Erucu” is a funky groove up-tempo track with a heavy bass line, multi-percussion instruments accompanied by brass, co-written by Don Daniels and Jermaine Jackson.
The instrumentation on the whole album is very elaborate, with well executed arrangements plus a good choice of studio musicians. No doubt this included some of Motown’s regular session musicians and members of the famous Wrecking Crew, a loose-knit group of studio musicians based in the city of Los Angeles, including Carol Kaye (bass) and Hal Blaine (drums). The style of music on the soundtrack album ranges from a middle of the road Pop sound, through jazz funk fusion with some Soul and R&B elements to classical, but generally most of the tracks were classically based with a full rich sound. It is one of the best soundtrack albums of the 1970s.
The album reached number nineteen on the Billboard 200 and number fifteen on the Billboard R&B chart.
The significance of the film lies in the breakthrough of a young Afro-American girl to fame and fortune. Not just Tracy in the film, but Diana Ross too, born on a housing project in Detroit and rising to become a star in Hollywood. It is the stuff of fairytales, but what an inspiration too.