Diana Ross earned an Oscar nomination for her first film, Lady Sings the Blues. Ross played Billie Holiday, a singer who is now the subject of a new movie, The United States Vs. Billie Holiday. She did not win, but she says if she had won, she knows exactly who she would have thanked.
Paramount re-released Lady Sings the Blues on Blu-ray on Feb. 23. The Blu-ray includes the 2005 documentary Behind the Blues featuring interviews with Ross. Here’s what she had to say about the Oscars.
Diana Ross would have thanked Motown Records producer Berry Gordy
Berry Gordy signed Ross to Motown as the lead singer of The Supremes. Gordy also produced Lady Sings the Blues, so Ross felt he was instrumental in her success.
“I really wish I could’ve won the Academy Award because I would’ve stood up there and thanked him for just so much he’s done for me,” Ross said. “He really has made it so that I’m here today. Maybe this is a good way for me to thank him for all that he’s done for me. He’s done so much for Motown and for Detroit, just for so many Afro-American people and that he’s just not getting the credit that he deserves.”
Playing Billie Holiday was a big risk for Diana Ross
Ross was about to go solo as a musical artist. It was Gordy’s idea for her to make the leap to the big screen, too.
“I had just done a farewell performances at the Frontier hotel leaving the Supremes,” Ross said. “I was taking a big leap, a leap of faith [and] I was afraid because I didn’t know what was going to happen in my life.”
Although Ross hadn’t planned on becoming an actor, Gordy’s confidence in her was enough.
“I have always thought that if you believe in me, I can do whatever you think that I can do,” Ross said. “Berry Gordy believed in me. It was like a big challenge to me to do something brand new,, something special.”
Playing Billie Holiday wasn’t really acting
Holiday was a significant figure for a singer like Ross. In the movie, Ross sings Holiday’s classic “Strange Fruit,” but Ross didn’t feel she could fake it. Ross came to the movie with no acting, or even script reading experience.
“I made it my story, not Billie Holiday’s story,” Ross said. “I made it real for me as if I was living each off those moments. When it was time for me to do the film, I spent a lot of time in my research trying to understand it, owning it but one of the things I didn’t want to do is to try to copy Billie Holiday. I didn’t want to try to copy her sound, I didn’t try to imitate it in any way. I just lived with the music for almost a year before we recorded the music.”