How Tracee Ellis Ross Out-Diana Ross’ed Her Mom in ‘The High Note’

Tracee Ellis Ross’s mother is the legendary singer Diana Ross. Ellis Ross has made her own mark in the entertainment industry. She has been the star of successful television shows Girlfriends and Black-ish and produced her own spinoff Mixed-ish. She plays a singer in her new movie The High Note and she may have even out-Diana Rossed her own mother!

Tracee Ellis Ross in The High Note
L-R: Dakota Johnson, Ice Cube and Tracee Ellis Ross | Glen Wilson/Focus Features

The High Note is now available on digital, DVD and Blu-ray. In the bonus features, Ellis Ross, screenwriter Flora Greeson and director Nisha Ganatra talk about turning Ellis Ross into a rock star.

Tracee Ellis Ross wanted the role of Grace Davis in ‘The High Note’

Grace Davis is the fictional rock star in The High Note. Her heyday was in the past so she has been touring and releasing greatest hits albums. Her assistant, Maggie (Dakota Johnson), encourages her to release new music instead. 

“I have been tracking this script for about eight months, nine months,” Ellis Ross said. “From the moment I read it I was like I am getting this movie.”

The High Note Blu-ray
The High Note Blu-ray | Universal Studios Home Entertainment

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Greeson said she quit her job at an agency to focus on screenwriting, and she certainly impressed Ellis Ross.

“She’s a 27-year-old dynamo who wrote a great script,” Ellis Ross said. 

Tracee Ellis Ross kept her singing a secret

For most of her career, Ellis Ross focused on acting. Ganatra said she didn’t even know if Ellis Ross could sing herself when they met. 

“We cast Tracee Ellis Ross without having heard her sing yet,” Ganatra said. “We were just so overcome by her talent and her ability but also huge relief.”

Ellis Ross acknowledged her mother’s legacy, but created someone new in The High Note.

Tracee Ellis Ross as Grace Davis
Tracee Ellis Ross | Glen Wilson/Focus Features

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“I come from a legacy of singing,” Ellis Ross. “Obviously Grace Davis is nothing like my mom but it is a world that I know.”

One area in which Davis can compete with Diana Ross is glamorous fashion. 

“The wardrobe for Grace Davis has been more than wardrobe,” Ellis Ross said. “It’s been flavor. Strong, elegant, polished, guarded and expensive.”

Sarah Aarons created the Grace Davis music for ‘The High Note’

When creating a fictional rock star, The High Note filmmakers hired a real musician. Sarah Aarons wrote three songs for Grace Davis.

“When we were putting together the music for the movie, we saw this New York Times piece on Sarah Aarons,” Ganatra said. “She just is so humble and quiet about her immense talent. She just churns out hit after hit after hit.”

When Aarons and Ellis Ross hit it off, Greeson saw her screenplay come to life.

High Note filmmakers
L-R: Flora Greeson and Nisha Ganatra | Jennifer Clasen/Focus Features

“She came and visited the set,” Greeson said. “Then her and Tracee sat at the piano in Capital Studios and played the song that Sarah wrote for the film.”

The first recording session was emotional. 

“[Ellis Ross] just started singing, and then Sarah started singing,” Ganatra said. “Everybody got really teary and Tracee got teary, Sarah got teary and they hugged each other. It was a really beautiful moment.”