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The Enigma: Diana Ross’s Unstoppable Drive

“I believe that I am better emotionally equipped to handle a performance than an intimate business meeting or a one-on-one encounter,” the legendary Diana Ross writes in her 1993 memoir, Secrets of a Sparrow.

This may be the understatement of the century. The iconic singer, and star of famed films including Lady Sings the Blues (which got her nominated for a best actress Oscar) and The Wiz has long had a reputation for being a “diva,” someone whose infamous demands were outshone only by her magnetically joyful talent.

Secrets of A Sparrow is a lyrical, at times frustrating biography, long on poetic platitudes but short on specifics. There is an undercurrent of defensiveness which runs throughout—understandable when one remembers the systemic racism, sexism, and persecution Ross faced as she rose her way to the top. “It seems that with every achievement, with every move I have made, no matter how great or small, someone was always there to try to bring me down,” she writes.

Though Ross reveals few secrets, not even touching on her reported romances with Smokey Robinson, Ryan O’Neal and Gene Simmons, her character emerges in ways she may not have intended. Ross comes across as a misunderstood, curious genius: sensitive, brave, anxious, oblivious, and utterly unknowable. “My separateness, my aloneness, has always been here and is here now,” she writes, “a recurring theme that has continuously run through my life.”

Diana Ross performs at The Point Theatre in Dublin, March 10 2004.ShowBizIreland/Getty Images.

Her Eyes on the Prize

“My story has often been referred to as classic ‘rags to riches,’ but in truth, that description doesn’t fit me at all. For starters, the Rosses were never raggedy,” Ross writes in Secrets of a Sparrow. “I was brought up to have ideals, to believe that anything was possible, and that hard work was part of that.”

Diana Ross was born in Detroit, Michigan, on March 26, 1944, the second of six children. Her mother, Ernestine, named her Diane, but a mistake on the birth certificate changed the name to Diana. Ross describes herself as an unstoppable force, a “small waiflike child with vibrant energy, vital, curious, full of piss and vinegar, and wildly excited to be alive.”

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