Diana Ross’ Hit Song ‘I’m Coming Out’ Was Inspired By Drag Queens

Music icon Diana Ross has been behind some of the catchiest hits of the past six decades. One of her biggest songs, “I’m Coming Out,” remains The Boss’s calling card. And in the years since its release, it’s become an anthem for the LGBTQ community.

Diana Ross wearing red and singing
Diana Ross | Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

‘I’m Coming Out’ was inspired by drag queens

Diana Ross rose to fame in the 1960s as a part of the Motown group The Supremes. She soon launched her own solo career in the early 1970s and continued to churn out hits for the following two decades.

In 1980, Ross released her smash self-titled album Diana. It contained hit singles including “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out.” The Diana album was written and produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of the disco group Chic.

Rodgers first shared the story about the song’s origins in a 2021 TikTok video. “The way that the song ‘I’m Coming Out’ came to be was when we went to work for Diana Ross we wanted to write about things that were in her universe, so we went to her apartment and interviewed her for a couple of days,” he recalled.

“One particular night I went to a club, The Gilded Grape, and I happened to notice that there were at least 6 or 7 Diana Ross impersonators, so I went outside to call Bernard and said, ‘you know, Diana Ross is revered by the gay community. If we wrote a song called ‘I’m Coming Out’ for Diana Ross it would have the same power as James Brown’s ‘Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud’ and next day we met in the studio […] and then from that we built the song.”

‘I’m Coming Out’ was written to celebrate Diana Ross

In 2022, Rodgers explained the history behind “I’m Coming Out” in an appearance on Apple Music’s Björn from ABBA & Friends podcast.

“‘I’m Coming Out’ — I promise you when I came up with that idea, I walked into a bar, there were a lot of transvestites and Diana Ross impersonators, I guess they were having some contest that night,” Rodgers recalled. “Diana Ross was the very first big star I ever worked with. And all of a sudden I walk in and I see the life of one aspect of Diana Ross’s life — that the gay community really looks up to Diana Ross as a real icon.”

When Rodgers witnessed just how loved Ross was in the LGBTQ community, he wanted to “translate” that love into a song. The title came soon after in what he called a “life-changing moment.”

“I was like, ‘Oh, my God, how do I translate that into a song without saying obviously what I’m feeling?’ And it just popped into my head, like ‘I’m coming out’. Yeah, honestly, and I thought that it was a life-changing moment,” he said.

Diana Ross wanted to work with Chic for the song

When picking collaborators for her Diana album, the former Supremes singer was very particular about who she worked with. She was a fan of Chic and wanted to work with Rodgers and Edwards herself.

“She came to see Chic playing live. And my partner turned around while we were jamming. And he said, ‘Damn, that’s like a queen coming to see us. She’s like our queen.’ And I remembered him saying that,” he remembered.

“So, when I was doing the arrangement, I wrote a fanfare. So we go, ‘I’m coming out’ … A fanfare for a queen. A person whos revered by the gay community,” he continued. “She’s acknowledging that alliance. And it’s also going to hopefully make you go to the dance floor.”

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