Diana Ross’ Most Sensational Moments Captured on Film
And don’t miss our hand-picked playlist of her fiercest hits
While some of us spent the pandemic lockdown drinking Chardonnay and bingeing true-crime documentaries, Diana Ross, 77, once again proved why she’s been a legend for nearly six decades: Stuck at home, the Motown hitmaker wrote and recorded her twenty-fifth studio album. Thank You (out Nov. 5) is her first album of original material since 1999’s Every Day Is a New Day, and you can listen to her comeback single, also entitled “Thank You,” now.
As Ross prepares for a 2022 concert tour across the U.K., there’s no better time to look back at her 10 most fabulous onscreen moments — and then crank up the volume on our playlist of her fiercest hits.
The Supremes — Ross, Mary Wilson and replacement member Cindy Birdsong (81) — teamed up with their Motown labelmates, the Temptations, for this primetime musical revue, with a setlist that featured songs from each group, ’60s pop hits (“Eleanor Rigby,” “Mrs. Robinson”) and show tunes of the era. A soundtrack album hit No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 chart, and the special spawned a 1969 follow-up, G.I.T. on Broadway, which earned Bob Mackie (82) an Emmy for his costumes.
The Most Supreme Moment: When Ross performs an extended African dance solo, wearing brightly patterned costumes and headdresses. Watch the dance here.
Where to Watch: You can find clips on YouTube.
Four years before she starred in her first film, Lady Sings the Blues, Ross made her acting debut, alongside Wilson and Birdsong in the 1960s TV adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure classic. The Motown stars played against type as a trio of nuns who return to the home village of Sister Therese (Ross) to build a hospital and deliver medicine. Keep your eyes peeled for a young James Earl Jones, 90, who plays a tribal chieftain!
The Most Supreme Moment: When the nuns sing “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” as they literally row to shore on a hippopotamus-filled river.
Where to Watch: You can find clips on YouTube or buy the DVD on Amazon Prime.
Lady Sings the Blues (1972)
It’s hard to imagine that this harrowing Billie Holiday biopic was Ross’ screen debut, because she’s such an immediately magnetic leading lady. She had to sing, play different ages and pretend to be strung out on heroin, and she earned a best actress Oscar nomination for the role. Vincent Canby of the New York Times called her “an actress of exceptional beauty and wit,” while Roger Ebert declared that Ross had given “one of the great performances of 1972.”
The Most Supreme Moment: When Ross as Holiday sings “God Bless the Child” at Carnegie Hall.
Where to Watch: The film is not currently available for streaming online, but you can buy the Blu-ray for $14.99 on Amazon Prime.
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Directed by Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, 91, this soapy romance stars Ross as an aspiring fashion designer from Chicago, who must choose between staying with her activist boyfriend (Billy Dee Williams, 84) in Chicago or moving to Rome to become a model and muse for fashion photographer Sean McAvoy (Anthony Perkins). The movie wasn’t a hit with critics, but it has always been a camp classic, with fans loving everything from the over-the-top plot to the colorful costumes, which were all designed by Ross herself!
The Most Supreme Moment: When Ross sings the lovely “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To?),” which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was nominated for an Oscar.
Where to Watch: Mahogany, on IndieFlix ($4.99/month after a 7-day trial)
The Wiz (1978)
In this all-Black retelling of The Wizard of Oz, Ross shines as Dorothy, a shy school teacher from Harlem who gets magically transported to Oz, a dream version of New York City. Much like the original, she teams up with the Scarecrow (Michael Jackson), the Cowardly Lion (Ted Ross) and the Tin Man (Nipsey Russell), though this version has some decidedly modern updates, such as a chase scene in a subway station and a sweatshop run by the Wicked Witch of the West. Ross’ pop-star charisma comes shining through, especially in energetic dance numbers like the Grammy-nominated “Ease on Down the Road.”
The Most Supreme Moment: When an emotional Dorothy sings the show-stopping solo “Home” directly into the camera against a black backdrop. It’s dramatic perfection.
Where to Watch: The Wiz, on Peacock
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The Muppet Show (1980)
Straight from the opening scene, Ross is clearly having a blast on this Season 4 episode of the Jim Henson classic: When Scooter gives her a big fan club (literally a prop club covered in mini whirring ceiling fans), she looks into the camera, bursts into giggles and exclaims, “Mother said there’d be shows like this!” Over the course of the half hour, she joins Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem to perform “Last Time I Saw Him” and dons a glittery gold jumpsuit to sing “Love Hangover,” as she dances with larger-than-life Muppet birds — a performance that earns her a perfect 10 from Waldorf and Statler, who have been judging every skit.
The Most Supreme Moment: When she helps Fozzie Bear deliver a terrible joke: “Hiya, hiya, hiya! Have you heard about the new soft drink they’re making just for frogs? It’s called Croak-a-Cola!”
Where to Watch: The Muppet Show, on Disney+
Diana Ross: Live in Central Park (1983)
Need proof of what a resilient star Ross is? Look no further than this 1983 concert in New York’s Central Park, in which she performed for an absolutely massive crowd (estimates range from 450,000 to 800,000 fans!) before Mother Nature changed her plans. After only 45 minutes, she had to cancel the set because of a dangerous lightning storm. But she came back the next evening to finish out the show, in a performance that aired on Showtime to massive critical acclaim. At the 2006 TV Land Awards, the concert was named TV’s Greatest Music Moment, and VH1 listed it on their 100 Greatest Rock and Roll Moments on TV list.
The Most Supreme Moment: When Ross powered through “Endless Love” while soaked in rain before she had to break it to the crowd that the night would be cut short.
Where to Watch: Diana Ross: Live in Central Park, on Amazon Prime
Super Bowl XXX halftime show (1996)
Ross had previously performed the national anthem at the 1983 Super Bowl, but she really got to shine 13 years later with a 10-song mini-concert that included costume changes, a giant crane, pyrotechnics, stadium cards, a choir and hundreds of dancers. The setlist spanned from her days with the Supremes (“Stop in the Name of Love”) to her solo records (“Chain Reaction”) to covers (“I Will Survive”) in a bravura greatest hits showcase that proved why her career was still hot in its third decade — and counting.
The Most Supreme Moment: When Ross made one of the grandest exits of her career, as a helicopter carried her skyward while she performed “Take Me Higher.”
Where to Watch: Super Bowl XXX halftime show, on YouTube
DON’T MISS THIS: The 10 Best Super Bowl Halftime Shows of All Time, Ranked
VH1 Divas 2000: A Tribute to Diana Ross (2000)
Ross has gotten the tribute treatment at various awards shows, but this televised concert was perhaps the best one yet, bringing together a cast of vocal heavyweights that was truly worthy of her industry-shaping status. Filmed at Madison Square Garden, the set included performances by Destiny’s Child, Donna Summer, Faith Hill (53), RuPaul (60) and Mariah Carey (52), with whom she shared the stage to duet on a medley of ’60s Supremes classics.
The Most Supreme Moment: When Ross was joined by Scherrie Payne (76) and Lynda Laurence (72), two former members of the Supremes, to perform “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and “Love is Like an Itching in My Heart.”
Where to Watch: The concert has never been released on DVD or CD, but you can find many clips online like this one.
Birthday medley at the 61st Grammy Awards (2019)
There are a number of performances that could round out this list — from the Motown 25 Supremes reunion in 1983 to the 2007 Kennedy Center Honors tribute — but for a true window into her preternatural staying power, check out Ross’ 2019 performance at the Grammys. A month before her 75th birthday, in a red satin and taffeta gown, she took to the stage to sing “The Best Years of My Life” and “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” as an adoring crowd (that included her daughter, Black-ish actress Tracee Ellis Ross) swayed and sang along.
The Most Supreme Moment: When Ross’ nine-year-old grandson Raif-Henok Kendrick brought her to the stage with a cute introduction: “She has shown the world that nothing is beyond our reach. So, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome my grandmommy, Diana Ross!”
Where to Watch: You can find clips online, including at billboard.com and YouTube
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.