THE STORY OF Diana Ross' life and her still-prospering career in the turbulent music industry is a story of survival.
She and friends Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard used their pinpoint harmonies and fresh faces to make it out of the Brewster-Douglass housing projects and into a record contract with Motown as the Supremes. Ross endured the often-grinding machinations of the Motown hit factory during its '60s heyday and gladly drank in the spotlight that always followed her.
She was able to take greater control over her creative life during the '70s, which netted her an Oscar nomination (for the lead role in the 1972 Billie Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues) and multiple hit singles along the way. Unlike many of her contemporaries, she swam through the disco and new wave eras with ease, and gracefully pivoted into adult contemporary territory through the '90s and '00s.
Even today, with her commercial prospects long since quieted down and her fierce yet flirty persona having been absorbed and recast by today's pop divas, Ross is still very much in demand. Her current concert tour has been going off and on since 2013 and has included stops around the globe and a small residency in Las Vegas last year.
However, her biggest battles seem to be self-generated. There are legendary stories of backstage fights with her fellow Supremes and some onstage drama between her and Wilson during the taping of the Motown 25 television special. Other tales center on outrageous demands, like instructing the support staff on her tours to avert their eyes when she arrived backstage and her actual arrest in 1999 for allegedly assaulting a security officer at London's Heathrow Airport. It's the type of behavior that would bring a firestorm of media attention upon any modern diva.
Ross has withstood it all and managed to arrive in 2016, at age 72, with little harm done to her reputation and legacy as a recording artist. It's a rare feat but one that is confirmation of how smart and savvy she continues to be. She consistently collaborated with the best songwriting talent around, including Ashford & Simpson, Nile Rodgers of Chic, and the Bee Gees.The greatest source of Ross' staying power has been her voice—that honeyed soprano capable of relaying such a field of emotions with the slightest change in timbre or volume. Just compare the desperation of "You Keep Me Hangin' On" to her gentle joy throughout "I Hear a Symphony." Or compare the pure bliss that exudes from her on "I'm Coming Out" with the poignancy of her last #1 single, the Lionel Richie duet "Endless Love."
As it is with most artists her age, the sheer fact that Ross continues to persevere and still has the desire to get on stage night after night to entertain her fans is reason enough to celebrate her and her multi-decade career. For one night at Edgefield, we can share in this story of survival with her. Even if we aren't allowed to look her in the eye while we do it.