8 Surprising Facts About Diana Ross

Emma McIntyre, Getty Images
Emma McIntyre, Getty Images

Not many artists can claim a career that spans six decades, but singer Diana Ross can. The recording artist, who turned 75 on March 26, emerged as part of The Supremes in the 1960s before going solo with a series of hits like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “I’m Coming Out.” She's not quite done, either.

Following a birthday tribute at this year's Grammy Awards in February, Ross hit the road for yet another tour, which she's in the midst of right now. While the world celebrates the contributions Ross has made to the music world, we’re taking a look back at the life and work of one of the music industry’s most celebrated—and prolific—voices.

1. Diana Ross grew up in a talented neighborhood.

Born March 26, 1944 in Detroit, Michigan, Diana Ross was raised in the Brewster-Douglass Projects, a low-income housing facility in the city. One of her neighbors was Smokey Robinson, who would go on to become one of the signature performers for producer Berry Gordy’s Motown record label. It was Robinson who introduced Ross to Gordy when Ross decided to form an all-girl singing group, The Primettes, with friends Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Betty McGlown. (A singer named Barbara Martin later replaced McGlown, though Martin soon left and made the quartet a trio.) The Primettes signed with Motown after the young women graduated high school in 1961.

2. The Supremes weren't an immediate hit.

Despite the seemingly magical touch of Gordy and a name change from The Primettes to The Supremes, neither Ross nor her band was not an overnight success. In the halls of Motown, producers and other acts referred to the group as the “No-Hit Supremes” due to their lack of commercial success. It would take three years before the women broke out with “Where Did Our Love Go?” It was the first of five consecutive number-one singles—including “Baby Love” and “Come See About Me”—that The Supremes would record between July 1964 and May 1965.

3. She got booed at a funeral.

Like many acts, success found The Supremes at the beginning of a bumpy road. Ballard was fired in 1967, the same year Gordy changed the name of the group to Diana Ross & The Supremes. With Ross’s star eclipsing those of the other members, in 1969 she announced that she would be moving on to a solo career. At Ballard’s funeral in 1976, Ross emerged from a limousine with bodyguards, an ostentatious appearance that led fans gathered outside to boo her.

4. A Supremes reunion didn’t go very well.

Ross got together with The Supremes for a reunion tour in 2000, but it wasn’t quite what fans expected. Instead of performing with Wilson or Cindy Birdsong, who was a later addition to the group, Ross opted to appear with Scherrie Payne and Lynda Laurence, who joined after Ross had already left. (Wilson and Birdsong turned down a reported $3 million each, less than the $15 to $20 million Ross was expected to earn.) Owing to sluggish ticket sales, the concert promoter canceled the tour with just 14 dates remaining.

5. She performed for nearly half a million people in Central Park.

In a testament to the popularity of Ross as a solo artist, the singer attracted an estimated 350,000 to 400,000 people for a performance on Central Park’s Great Lawn on July 21, 1983. The concert, which was intended to raise money for the City Parks Department as well as a children’s playground at West 81st Street, hit a snag early when a rainstorm forced the crowd to disperse just 25 minutes into the performance. Ross tried to convince them to remain, but when the storm grew worse, she compelled them to leave in an orderly manner. Ross performed a makeup concert the following night for approximately 350,000 people. When both the city and the production lost money on the cancellation, Ross donated $250,000 toward the playground out of her own pocket.

6. She was going to star in The Bodyguard.

After her solo career took off, Ross tried her hand at acting. In 1976, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan wrote The Bodyguard, about the romantic entanglement between a pop star and her personal security detail. Ross was supposed to star as the singer, with Steve McQueen playing the bodyguard. The project never came together with those two actors. Instead, it was made with Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner in 1992. In real life, one of Ross’s bodyguards was former bouncer Lawrence Tureaud, better known as Mr. T.

7. A “lost” Ross album finally surfaced in 2015.

One of Ross’s most notable acting roles was as Dorothy in The Wiz, a 1978 reimagining of The Wizard of Oz, which was produced by Berry Gordy. Ross recorded a tie-in album, Diana Ross Sings Songs From the Wiz, which was expected to be released in 1979. After the film failed to perform at the box office, Motown cancelled the album’s release. It wasn’t made publicly available until 2015.

8. She won a long-overdue Grammy in 2012.

Although Ross has been nominated for 12 Grammy awards, she has never won. That somewhat inexplicable statistic changed in 2012, when Ross received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Early this year, she appeared at the 61st annual Grammys for a performance commemorating her 75th birthday.

Top 50 Best-Selling Artists of All Time

Paul McCartney of The Beatles and Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones sit opposite each other on a train at London's Euston Station.
Paul McCartney of The Beatles and Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones sit opposite each other on a train at London's Euston Station.
Victor Blackman, Express/Getty Images

Who are America’s all-time favorite musicians and bands? When it comes to the best-selling artists of all time, The Beatles still rule—yes, even a half-century after their breakup. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), these are the 50 best-selling artists of all time.

  1. The Beatles

Albums sold: 183 million

  1. Garth Brooks

Albums sold: 148 million

  1. Elvis Presley

    Elvis Presley is seen playing the guitar in his 1966 film, 'Spinout'
    Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Albums sold: 146.5 million

  1. Eagles

Albums sold: 120 million

  1. Led Zeppelin

Albums sold: 111.5 million

  1. Billy Joel

Albums sold: 84.5 million

  1. Michael Jackson

Albums sold: 84 million

  1. Elton John

    Elton John plays a concert in 2008.
    LENNART PREISS/AFP/Getty Images

Albums sold: 78.5 million

  1. Pink Floyd

Albums sold: 75 million

  1. AC/DC

Albums sold: 72 million

  1. George Strait

Albums sold: 69 million

  1. Barbra Streisand

    Barbra Streisand
    Terry Fincher, Express/Getty Images

Albums sold: 68.5 million

  1. The Rolling Stones

Albums sold: 66.5 million

  1. Aerosmith

Albums sold: 66.5 million

  1. Bruce Springsteen

Albums sold: 66.5 million

  1. Madonna

Albums sold: 64.5 million

  1. Mariah Carey

    Mariah Carey performs during the 2019 Billboard Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 1, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada
    Ethan Miller, Getty Images

Albums sold: 64 million

  1. Metallica

Albums sold: 63 million

  1. Whitney Houston

Albums sold: 58.5 million

  1. Van Halen

Albums sold: 56.5 million

  1. Fleetwood Mac

Albums sold: 54.5 million

  1. U2

    The Edge and Bono of the rock band U2 perform at Bridgestone Arena on May 26, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee
    Jason Kempin, Getty Images

Albums sold: 52 million

  1. Celine Dion

Albums sold: 50 million

  1. Neil Diamond

Albums sold: 49.5 million

  1. Journey

Albums sold: 48 million

  1. Kenny G

    Kenny G performs onstage during the "Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives" Premiere Concert during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at Radio City Music Hall
    Noam Galai, Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Albums sold: 48 million

  1. Shania Twain

Albums sold: 48 million

  1. Kenny Rogers

Albums sold: 47.5 million

  1. Alabama

Albums sold: 46.5 million

  1. Eminem

    Eminem performs onstage during the 2018 iHeartRadio Music Awards which broadcasted live on TBS, TNT, and truTV at The Forum on March 11, 2018 in Inglewood, California
    Kevin Winter, Getty Images for iHeartMedia

Albums sold: 46 million

  1. Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

Albums sold: 44.5 million

  1. Guns N’ Roses

Albums sold: 44.5 million

  1. Alan Jackson

Albums sold: 43.5 million

  1. Santana

Albums sold: 43.5 million

  1. Taylor Swift

    Taylor Swift performs onstage at 2019 iHeartRadio Wango Tango presented by The JUVÉDERM® Collection of Dermal Fillers at Dignity Health Sports Park on June 01, 2019
    Rich Fury, Getty Images for iHeartMedia

Albums sold: 43 million

  1. Reba McEntire

Albums sold: 41 million

  1. Eric Clapton

Albums sold: 40 million

  1. Chicago

Albums sold: 38.5 million

  1. Simon & Garfunkel

    Pop duo Simon and Garfunkel, comprising (L-R) singer, Art Garfunkel and singer-songwriter, Paul Simon, performing on ITV's 'Ready, Steady, Go!', July 8, 1966
    Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Albums sold: 38.5 million

  1. Foreigner

Albums sold: 38 million

  1. Rod Stewart

Albums sold: 38 million

  1. Tim McGraw

Albums sold: 37.5 million

  1. Backstreet Boys

Albums sold: 37 million

  1. 2 Pac

Albums sold: 36.5 million

  1. Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan
    Evening Standard/Getty Images

Albums sold: 36 million

  1. Def Leppard

Albums sold: 35.5 million

  1. Queen

Albums sold: 35 million

  1. Dave Matthews Band

Albums sold: 34.5 million

  1. Britney Spears

    Britney Spears performs at the 102.7 KIIS FM's Jingle Ball 2016
    Christopher Polk, Getty Images for iHeartMedia

Albums sold: 34.5 million

  1. Bon Jovi

Albums sold: 34.5 million

8 Facts About David Bowie's 'Space Oddity'

Express/Express/Getty Images
Express/Express/Getty Images

Fifty years ago, on July 20, 1969, astronauts walked on the Moon for the first time. Just a few weeks earlier, another space-age event had rocked the world: David Bowie’s single “Space Oddity” hit airwaves. The song, whose lyrics tell the story of an astronaut’s doomed journey into space, helped propel the artist to icon status, and five decades later, it’s still one of his most popular works. In honor of its 50th anniversary, here are some facts about the stellar track.

1. "Space Oddity" was inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Many listeners assumed that "Space Oddity" was riffing on the Apollo 11 Moon landing of 1969, but it was actually inspired by a Stanley Kubrick film released a year earlier. Bowie watched 2001: A Space Odyssey multiple times when it premiered in theaters in 1968. “It was the sense of isolation I related to,” Bowie told Classic Rock in 2012. “I found the whole thing amazing. I was out of my gourd, very stoned when I went to see it—several times—and it was really a revelation to me. It got the song flowing.”

2. "Space Oddity" was also inspired by heartbreak.

The track was also partly inspired by the more universal experience of heartbreak. Bowie wrote the song after ending his relationship with actress Hermione Farthingale. The break inspired several songs, including “Letter to Hermione” and “Life on Mars,” and in “Space Oddity,” Bowie’s post-breakup loneliness and melancholy is especially apparent.

3. "Space Oddity" helped him sign a record deal.

In 1969, a few years into David Bowie’s career, the musician recorded a demo tape with plans to use it to land a deal with Mercury Records. That tape featured an early iteration of “Space Oddity,” and based on the demo, Mercury signed him for a one-album deal. But the song failed to win over one producer. Tony Visconti, who produced Bowie’s self-titled 1969 album, thought the song was a cheap attempt to cash in on the Apollo 11 mission, and he tapped someone else to produce that particular single.

4. The BBC played "Space Oddity" during the Moon landing.

"Space Oddity" was released on July 11, 1969—just five days before NASA launched Apollo 11. The song doesn’t exactly sound like promotional material for the mission. It ends on a somber note, with Major Tom "floating in a tin can" through space. But the timing and general subject matter were too perfect for the BBC to resist. The network played the track over footage of the Moon landing. Bowie later remarked upon the situation, saying, "Obviously, some BBC official said, 'Oh, right then, that space song, Major Tom, blah blah blah, that’ll be great. 'Um, but he gets stranded in space, sir.' Nobody had the heart to tell the producer that."

5. David Bowie recorded an Italian version of "Space Oddity."

The same year "Space Oddity" was released, a different version David Bowie recorded with Italian lyrics was played by radio stations in Italy. Instead of directly translating the English words, the Italian songwriter Mogul was hired to write new lyrics practically from scratch. "Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola" ("Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl") is a straightforward love song, and Major Tom is never mentioned.

6. Major Tom appeared in future songs.

Major Tom, the fictional astronaut at the center of "Space Oddity," is one of the most iconic characters invented for a pop song. It took a decade for him to resurface in David Bowie’s discography. In his 1980 single "Ashes to Ashes," the artists presents a different version of the character, singing: "We know Major Tom's a junkie/Strung out in heaven's high/Hitting an all-time low." Bowie also references Major Tom in "Hallo Spaceboy" from the 1995 album Outside.

7. "Space Oddity" is featured in Chris Hadfield's ISS music video.

When choosing a song for the first music filmed in space, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield naturally went with David Bowie’s out-of-this-world anthem. The video above was recorded on the International Space Station in 2013, with Hadfield playing guitar and singing from space and other performers providing musical accompaniment from Earth. Some lyrics were tweaked for the cover. Hadfield mentions the "Soyuz hatch" of the capsule that would eventually shuttle him to Earth.

8. "Space Oddity" played on the Tesla that Elon Musk sent to space.

Dummy in Tesla roadster in space with Earth in background.
SpaceX via Getty Images

In 2018, Elon Musk used SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket to launch his Tesla Roadster into space. The car was decked out with pop culture Easter eggs—according to Musk, "Space Oddity" was playing over the car’s radio system during the historic journey. The dummy’s name, Starman, is the name of another space-themed song on Bowie's 1972 masterpiece The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

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