Since departing the Supremes in 1970 and parting company with the talents of Motown's hit-making songwriting factory (Holland-Dozier-Holland), Diana Ross has soared upon and sunk beneath the crashing waves of Stardom. She has been an adult-contemporary hit maker ("Touch Me in the Morning"), a disco diva ("Work That Body"), a soul superstar ("Ain't No Mountain High Enough"), and a movie star to boot ("Theme from Mahogany"). She's been the enigmatic diva who could rescue pablum and make it relevant and the uninspired pawn of lesser songwriters, never quite disappearing from view but often shrouded behind expensive failures and her inability to maintain and regain the fame she possessed as a Supreme; she's less than a legend, more than a mere oldies act, forever playing out her career under the glare of Vegas spotlights and the weight of Detroit music history.
The Guinness Book of World Records lists Ross as the most successful female artist of all time, with more than 70 hit singles to her credit, but fame and success are inaccurate measures of artistry and consistency. Without Holland et al. in the '70s and '80s, Ross may have sealed her legendm but she did so by relying upon the lightweight "soul" of Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson adn the timid "pop" of Burt Bacharach and Hal David; she sold her soul, so to speak, to reach a broader, older audience that had grown up with - and grown out of - the Motown sound of a Young America. She struggled to define herself as a pop star, as a balladeer, as a jazz singer, as a soul singer, as Al Green, as Billie Holiday (Lady Sings the Blues was the movie, and fiction at that). What she came up with made her a bona fide star, just as it relegated her to old-timer status long before retirement age as she was surpassed by everyone from Donna Summer to Whitney Houston.
She's Detroit soul by way of Las Vegas glitz, so often dismissed during the past 20 years as nothing but an "Ebony Streisand" whose superstardom in the '60s was surpassed only by her erratic output in the '70s and '80s; she kicked off the decade with the funky Diana (big single: "I'm Coming Out"), so masterfully assembled by Chic's Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, then sneaked out the back door nine years later with the laughably outdated Workin' Overtime (words of wisdom: "Going Through the Motions"). In the middle, she released a double album best-of that condensed/condemned her storied past with the Supremes into a 15-minute medley.
What she'll bring to her rare Dallas performance this weekend is anyone's guess: She was recently spotted on "Entertainment Tonight" clad in spangles and glitz, bragging about her "still-sexy image" and performing in a similarly formal setting, still conflicted by a brilliant past and an uncertain future.
Diana Ross performs October 22 at the Fair Park Music Hall, benefitting the Dallas Black Dance Theater. Tickets are $100-$1,000. For more information, call 520-2787.