Following the commercial failure of her third film “The Wiz”, Diana Ross returned to making music. “The Boss” album was released in 1979, becoming the first album by Diana Ross as a solo artist to receive a gold certification from the RIAA, awarded on 17th July 1980. The album was the first and only album by Ross to be entirely recorded at the Sigma Sound Studios in New York City, the main recording base for Ashford and Simpson’s music production activities. It was no surprise that Ross turned to Ashford/Simpson team, given that they had kick-started her solo career in 1970 when she left the Supremes. They set her on the way again now.
Diana Ross relocated to New York City to live with her family after living on the West Coast in Hollywood, California. On her next album “Diana” she moved from the dynamic signature sound of Ashford and Simpson and began to explore the Chic signature sound according to Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. A series of successful albums emerged from this collaboration during the 1980s.
In 1985, Ross was one of the artists who responded to the famine in Africa by contributing to the song “We Are the World” and also appeared in the documentary film that was made, showing how the song was written and recorded. The project was led by Quincy Jones, Lionel Ritchie and Michael Jackson and raised sixty million dollars for famine relief organisations.
In the same year Ross appeared on the small screen again when a video film was released, featuring six of her performances. The songs were filmed by Marty Callner, Paul Justman, Dominic Orlando and Bob Giraldi, who had previously worked very successfully on Michael Jackson videos. The collection was given the title “Diana: The Visions of Diana Ross”.
A second video appeared in 1993, to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of “Lady Sings the Blues”. It is a recording of a performance that Diana Ross gave at the Ritz Theatre in New York, on December 4th 1992, of the nineteen Jazz standards that she had sung for the soundtrack of the first film. A ninety-minute video recording of the show was released, as well as an album, entitled “Stolen Moments: The Lady Sings Jazz and Blues”.
The band backing Diana includes jazz giants Roy Hargrove, Ron Carter, Jon Faddis and Urbie Greene, among others. Upon release, the album reached the Top 10 on Billboard’s jazz chart, peaking at number two.
A studio recording of a new song “Where Did We Go Wrong”, co-written by Ross, was included on international editions of the album, but these international releases omitted the live track “The Man I Love”.
The album CD and DVD were both remastered and re-released in 2002 with superb sound and resolution.
A third video featuring Diana Ross appeared in October 1993, a film of a televised Christmas concert in Austria. It had been recorded the previous Christmas in Vienna and shows Diana Ross taking on another major challenge. She performed alongside Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras, the Gumpoldskirchen Boys Choir and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. The album was extremely successful, selling over a million copies and reaching number two on the Classical Music Chart and staying on the chart for thirty-one weeks.
Ross’ next venture in front of the cameras was very different indeed. She has always appeared to relish a challenge, but this was perhaps the hardest thing she ever took on. In 1994 she starred in a made-for-tv drama entitled “Out of Darkness”. The film was written by Barbara Turner and directed by Larry Elikann.
Diana Ross plays the part of Pauline Cooper, a former medical student who becomes ill with paranoid schizophrenia, struggles with the condition for eighteen years and is finally released from care. She tries to rebuild her life with help from doctors, nurses, and a new experimental medication. At the end of the film, Pauline cries as she watches a homeless woman searching through dustbins, talking to herself.
Ross’s performance was good. She was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film at the 52nd Golden Globe Awards in 1995.
The next film was a lot easier. “Double Platinum” was released in 1999, written by Nina Shengold and directed by Robert Allan Ackerman. It is a made-for-tv musical drama that tells the story of a singer, Olivia King, played by Diana Ross, who leaves her husband and baby daughter in Atlanta and goes to New York to seek fame and fortune. Eighteen years later, now a huge star, Olivia meets her daughter Kayla once again, although Kayla doesn’t know that Olivia is her mother. Kayla (played by Brandy) dreams of becoming a star singer too and is delighted by Olivia’s interest in her. When Olivia tells her that she is her mother, things turn sour. After some initial difficulties, Kayla is persuaded to accept her mother’s offers of help and they are slowly reconciled.
The songs featured in the film are from Brandy’s “Never Say Never” album and Diana’s “Every Day Is a New Day”. The featured tracks from Brandy are “Have You Ever”, “Almost Doesn’t Count” and “Happy”. Ross’ tracks are “He Lives In You”, “Until We Meet Again”, “Carry On” and “Someone That You Loved Before”. The final duet “Love Is All That Matters” is an original song performed by Brandy and Diana specifically for the film. The film was originally shown on ABC, but has since been broadcast by VH1, MTV, BET and TV One.
In the new century Diana Ross has featured in the films “It’s Black Entertainment 2000” and “We are Family” (2002). The first of these is a tribute to the contributions of Afro-Americans to the American music industry. The second is a documentary with performances that was released one year after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre. It was directed by Danny Schechter and put together by Nile Rodgers and Spike Lee, with the aim of supporting the families who had suffered.
Put together, these films and videos show what an amazing talent Diana Ross has. She has risen to every challenge and has built up a truly impressive body of work.
Headline Photo: Shealah Craighead 2008
Diana Ross is applauded by her fellow Kennedy Centre honorees