14 JULY 7, 2006
Lady sings the 'Blue'
www.houstonvoice.com HOUSTON VOICE
mUSIC ANDY ZEFFER
Never-released album of
jazz standards serves as
reminder why Diana Ross
became a star
THE TIME WAS THE EARLY '70S. AND
Diana Ross' star as a soloist was well on
Much of her success had to do with her
motion picture debut in the 1972 Billie
Holiday biopic, "Lady Sings the Blues."
When it was first announced that Ross
would portray the jazz legend, critics were
doubtful. Ross looked nothing like Holiday,
and her recognizably sweet, high voice was
drastically different from Holiday's tortured, soulful vocal instrument.
Yet instead of trying to impersonate
Holiday, Ross knocked down Holiday's
phrasing and adapted her own sparrow
singing style to the jazz standards featured in "Lady Sings the Blues."
The film was a huge hit and Ross was
rewarded with a nomination for the Best
Actress Academy Award. The competition that year was stiff, and Ross lost out
to another rising star, gay icon Liza
Minnelli in "Cabaret." Still, with a high
profile and a number one soundtrack LP,
Ross was riding high.
The "Lady Sings the Blues" soundtrack
was produced, arranged and conducted by
Gil Askey Inspired by the success of the
soundtrack, Askey went on to record twelve
more jazz standards with Ross. Renditions
include well-known favorites such as Cole
Porter's "Let's Do It," the Gershwins' "I
Loves Ya Porgy" and "What a Diff'rence a
Day Makes," "Had You Been Around" and
"Can't Get Started With You."
Surprisingly, the album was shelved
and never saw the light of day
LEGEND HAS IT THAT MOTOWN
honcho and Ross svengali Berry Gordy
feared the singer became too jazzy after
immersing herself in the film, and that she
would lose touch with her general audience.
A music-world Midas with an uncanny
sensibility of what the public craved,
Gordy's gut instincts proved correct. In 1973,
Ross hit #1 with the blockbuster pop hit,
"Touch Me hi the Morning." The unreleased
jazz tracks were soon forgotten and gathered
dust in the Motown vaults. Until now.
Simply titled "Blue," the stellar set of
standards hits store shelves more than
three decades after it was recorded.
Gay fans will love the newly released Diana Ross
CD Blue,' rescued from rotting in the vaults of
Understated and never over the top, Ross
masters the subtleties and raw emotion
necessary for good jazz.
She tells the stories of hope and
heartache with just the right amount of
sadness, coyness and sultriness. Her manner is in direct contrast to her huge pop
anthems and over-the-top stage persona
that became the stuff of legend — and
parody for countless drag queens.
It is almost difficult for listeners to think
this is the same Ross with the massive hair
and sequined gowns flying behind her, the
image that the public knows so well.
A MORE INFO
THE SUCCESS OF ROSS' SINGING CAREER
blazed through the '70s with hits like
"Love Hangover" and "Upside Down." and
into the '80s with "Endless Love" and
Unfortunately, by the end of the '80s.
Ross became a commercial commodity
that she and her handlers didn't know
exactly what to do with. Widely spread
reports of her outrageous bitchy behavior
did not help, nor did well-documented
books like "Call Her Miss Ross" and
Supremes partner Mary Wilson's tell-all
"Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme."
Ross' last big episode of visibility was
not due to a hit record, but to a 2002 DUI.
Tabloid fodder aside, Ross is a deserving music legend, a trailblazer for the
likes of Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston
and so many others.
With "Blue," her face and voice are back
in front of millions where they belong. The
album captures Ross at her best, during a
time that cemented her as a breakout star
blazing with promise and ambition.
Music lovers of all kinds should appreciate this rediscovered gem, and diehard
Ross fans should revel in it.
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