Ross' presence has been virtually inescapable for anyone who has engaged with music or American culture within the past 50 years. Since breaking out solo after a successful run with the Motown sensation the Supremes in the early 1960s, Ross has created a legacy that's built to last. Recent years have seen her celebrate her body of work and reinforce her achievements through live performances highlighting her countless hits. Miami will be lucky to host two such shows: Thursday, March 12, and Friday, March 13, Miss Ross will take her talents to the Fillmore Miami Beach for a two-night celebration commemorating her 75th birthday.
The journey from Detroit diva to worldwide superstar has been a long and winding one for Ross: When she joined the local doo-wop girl group the Primettes in 1959, she was a starry-eyed 15-year-old searching for fame in a golden era for Detroit music. She joined Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, and Betty McGlown in the ensemble, and after months of performing at sock hops and other events around Detroit, the Primettes were primed for their big break.
Ross later approached a former neighbor — a singer in the popular vocal group the Miracles by the name of Smokey Robinson — about getting the group an audition with Motown Records. Label executive Berry Gordy at first was reluctant to sign "the girls" (as they were known around Motown's Hitsville U.S.A. studios at the time) and initially allowed them to contribute only back-up vocals for Motown artists such as Marvin Gaye. Gordy later relented and signed them as the Supremes to the esteemed label in January 1961.
The group struggled to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 the first couple of years until 1963, when "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes" peaked at number 23. After a lineup change that saw the group reduced to a trio, the Supremes spent the next two years releasing four back-to-back number one singles: "Baby Love," "Come See About Me," "Stop! In the Name of Love," and "Back in My Arms Again." Gordy designated Ross the lead singer and rebranded the group Diana Ross & the Supremes in 1967.
The act's sales and chart success began to falter as the '60s drew to a close, and Ross promptly left the group to pursue a solo career in early 1970. Just a few months later, in May, her solo debut album arrived, and Ross' version of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" went on to reach the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100. The next decade saw her release hit album after hit album as dance singles such as "Love Hangover" and "The Boss" found popularity at disco clubs across the nation. Even as she built her following of four-on-the-floor fiends, ballads such as "Do You Know Where You're Going To" — a contribution to the soundtrack of the widely panned film Mahogany, in which Ross made an appearance — helped establish her reputation as one of the most versatile pop artists of her generation.
By the time her dance-floor smash "I'm Coming Out" dropped in 1980, Ross had cemented her status as a superstar of sound and screen. Her performance as Dorothy in the film adaptation The Wiz won her widespread acclaim, and she departed Motown later that year for a record-setting multimillion-dollar deal with RCA Records. The subsequent three decades have been filled with seminal moments for Ross, including her appearance on USA for Africa's "We Are the World" charity single, performances at sports ceremonies such as the Super Bowl and World Cup, and a long-overdue first Grammy — albeit in the form of a Lifetime Achievement Award — in 2012.
And, of course, her daughter Tracee Ellis Ross has taken after her mother by building an impressive acting resumé of her own.
Although Ross has maintained a lower public profile as time has passed, her onstage performances, including a partial mini-residency in Las Vegas, continue to enthrall audiences. And though the accomplished artist hasn't released new music lately, touching live renditions of her classics have reinforced her place in the hearts of lifelong fans. Ross' appeal transcends generations, and it's impossible not to marvel at her lengthy tenure of showing audiences who's boss.
Diana Ross. 8 p.m. Thursday, March 12, and 8:30 p.m. Friday, March 13, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami; 305-673-7300; fillmoremb.com. Tickets cost $51.50 to $627.50 via livenation.com.