Interview: Atlanta Jazz Singer Brenda Nicole Moorer

This story doesn’t exactly have anything to do with Diana Ross and/or The Supremes, but it does feature a talented young singer with some vocal similarities to Miss Ross and a very cool connection to 60s soul music.  I recently sat down with Atlanta jazz singer Brenda Nicole Moorer, who is preparing to release her second solo album, and we talked about her influences (Billie Holiday) and her family’s incredible legacy of music.  Hope you enjoy!  (By the way, her new single “Re-Imagine” is available for download and it’s great!)

 

 

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February Ends With A “Stop!” (2/27/65)

This full-page ad ran in the February 27, 1965 issue of Billboard, predicting that then-current Supremes single “Stop! In The Name Of Love” would become the group’s 4th consecutive #1 hit.  Exactly one month later, that prediction came true, as the song ascended to the top spot and knocked “Eight Days A Week” by The Beatles from the throne.

And here’s a fascinating tidbit — also in the March 27, 1965 issue of Billboard, as The Supremes notched a fourth #1 hit, the group was listed as having a top 10 hit single in Malaysia.  The song?  Not “Stop! In The Name Of Love.”  Incredibly, “A World Without Love” (from A Bit Of Liverpool) sat at #7 on the chart!

billboard-2-27-65

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“You Can’t Hurry Love” Billboard Ad (8/13/66)

Of the many Supremes ads I’ve recently found in back issues of Billboard magazine, this one has got to be my favorite.  This beautiful full-page, color advertisement ran in the August 13, 1966 issue of the magazine, promoting the recently-released single “You Can’t Hurry Love.”  The song was listed as a “National Breakout” in that same issue, and was making its debut on the Billboard Hot 100 at #66.

The fact that the song’s title appears to be racing across the page is appropriate; the following week, “You Can’t Hurry Love” had shot from #66 to #28 on the chart, and the week after that it leapt to #7.  From there it climbed up to #4 and, finally, “You Can’t Hurry Love” settled into the top spot in the issue dated September 10.  It was the seventh #1 hit for The Supremes, and would soon be followed by number eight, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”  The song also helped propel its parent album, The Supremes A’ Go-Go, to the top spot on the Billboard 200, making The Supremes the first female group to have a #1 album.

Although it’s been covered many times over the years — most famously by Phil Collins in 1982 — “You Can’t Hurry Love” remains a definitive Supremes recording, and a perfect example of the kind of crisp, tight composition for which songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland became famous.  Diana Ross excels at the song’s urgent lyrics and catchy melody, showing real growth as a vocalist from the group’s earlier singles; it’s impossible to imagine anyone else making the same sort of impact with the song.

You Can't Hurry Love billboard Ad Supremes

 

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“Happy Birthday, Mr. President…”

Since Friday, January 20 is both Inauguration Day in the United States and my own birthday…this seemed like an appropriate picture to post.  This was taken from the October 19, 1978 issue of Jet, and shows Miss Diana Ross singing “Happy Birthday” to then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter.  President Carter took the oath of office on January 20, 1977, serving as Commander-In-Chief for four years.

On a personal note, I recently interviewed President Carter here in Atlanta (I’m a television journalist by day, Diana blogger by night!) and he was as kind and gracious as his reputation suggests.  He continues working around the world to eradicate disease.  If you’re interested, you can watch part of my interview here.

Diana Ross Jimmy Carter Happy Birthday

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Mary Wilson Remembers Dr. King

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — here’s another look at the interview I conducted with Mary Wilson, during which she talked about Dr. King and his relationship with Motown.  Yes, when I’m not blogging about Diana Ross and The Supremes, I’m a television reporter…and this assignment was certainly the highlight of my career.

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“Love Is Here…” 50 Years Ago in Billboard

Check out this gorgeous full-page ad from the February 11, 1967 issue of Billboard.  “Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone” (from The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland) had just been released in January, and was climbing toward the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and the Hot R&B Singles charts.  It reached the summit of both listings in early March, becoming the group’s ninth #1 pop hit (and third in a sting of four consecutive pop chart-toppers).

Supremes "Love Is Here" Billboard Ad

 

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The “Project” Turns 5!

Happy New Year!

Along with being the first day of 2017, today also marks the 5th anniversary of The Diana Ross Project.  I started writing track-by-track reviews of every Diana Ross album back in January of 2012 simply because it’s the kind of information I couldn’t find on the Internet. Everybody seemed to have an opinion about the singer’s voice, career, and persona, but very few had actually critically evaluated the singer’s work in a way that seemed meaningful or thorough.

So I started writing…with no idea that anybody would actually read the posts or comment on them.  I certainly didn’t expect to hear from fans in countries I’d never even heard of.  And I definitely didn’t expect to hear from people who’d actually worked with Miss Ross during her career.  All of it has been a sincere surprise, and I’m so grateful that this has become a little corner of the Internet where fans can have a respectful discussion about the work and career of Diana Ross.  Thank you for coming along for the ride.

Hopefully 2017 will bring new music for me to write about and for all of us to discuss — it sounds like we’ll be getting an Expanded Edition of The Supremes A’ Go-Go very soon, with a stellar alternate mix of Diana’s solo “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” included.  And, of course, we can all wish for something new from Miss Ross herself; if her recent shows with the NSO Pops at The Kennedy Center are any indication, her voice is in superb shape.  Watching clips of her performing songs like “It’s My Turn,” “If We Hold On Together,” and “The Best Years Of My Life” again was the perfect soothing end to a tumultuous 2016.

And, of course, if somehow, someday Miss Diana Ross gets any word about this website, I hope she knows how important she’s been in the lives of its writer and its readers.  Here’s to five more “best years” ahead!

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“Work That Body” (1982)

Diana Ross Work That Body Single Check out this gorgeous 12″ single for Diana’s “Work That Body,” released in Holland in 1982.  I picked this one up in an Atlanta record store called Wax n’ Facts today, lured in by the beautiful photo and packaging.

Diana Ross Work That Body import

“Work That Body” occupies a unique spot in the discography of Diana Ross.  It’s the final track on Why Do Fools Fall In Lovethe singer’s debut LP under a blockbuster new contract at RCA Records.  It was the Diana’s first self-produced album, and was heralded upon its release in the fall of 1981; Billboard magazine proclaimed, “Move over, Aretha and Dionne.  There’s a new artist on the scene” and called the album “nothing short of a masterpiece” (11-14-81).  Lead single “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” zoomed up the charts, peaking in the top 10, and was quickly followed there by the gloriously funky “Mirror, Mirror.”  The entire album was eventually certified platinum.

“Work That Body” was named in reviews as a standout on the album; the Billboard write-up noted “listeners will probably be burning a hole in through the floor with their feet.”  This must have been particularly gratifying to Diana Ross, because she co-wrote the song; when it was finally lifted as the album’s third single, it notably became the first self-penned release by the singer in her 20-year career.  The song just missed the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it was popular in the dance clubs (paired with “Mirror, Mirror”) and a UK top 10 hit; it also managed to break into the top 10 of the Jet Soul Brothers Top 20 Singles listing.

Jet Magazine 5-31-82

Today, “Work That Body” is derided by some as a rip-off of Olivia Newton-John’s massive hit “Physical,” which featured a similar aerobics-themed music video; to be honest, I’d always considered it a knock-off and nothing more.  But upon closer look, “Physical” was released in September of 1981 (according to Wikipedia, at least), the same month as the Why Do Fools Fall In Love album; thus, Diana probably wrote and recorded “Work That Body” before she’d ever even heard Newton-John’s recording.  In retrospect, “Work That Body” is more similar in tone to something like “It’s Raining Men,” the dance classic released by The Weather Girls in 1982; this makes sense, as both were co-written by Paul Jabara.  Both are knowingly campy, and Jabara clearly lent a gay sensibility to the songs which has helped them outlive many others of the era.  For example, 15 years after listeners first heard “Work That Body,” no less a diva than the fabulous RuPaul brought the song back for his 1996 album Foxy Lady.  (NOTE: Ross and Jabara also co-wrote “Ladies Hot Line,” a song recorded by The Weather Girls and released in 1983.  Click here to read more about that recording.)

Because Miss Ross co-wrote “Work That Body,” it will always hold a special place of interest for fans and those studying the singer’s career; it remains one of only a handful of Ross compositions.  That said, the track is very much a product of its time, feeding into the aerobics craze of the ’80s and featuring a chunky, late-disco rhythm section.  The song is undeniably catchy; Diana doesn’t so much sing as kind of speak along in a raspy voice, but she sounds like she’s having a great time in the studio.  The lyrics, of course, are completely ridiculous, with the hilarious opening, “Every morning when we wake/To make up for that piece of cake/We ate last night…” representative of everything else to come.  But, really, this isn’t supposed to be a serious song; it’s not exactly “It’s My Turn,” is it?  This is a song about the joys of looking good, and it remains a completely entertaining listen, if only to sing along with Diana Ross about being the “hottest girl in town!”

The music video is one of Diana’s very first, and it’s deliriously campy, spotlighting Miss Ross shimmying in a serious of colorful leotards.  And how about this?  In 2015, “Work That Body” resurfaced yet again…this time, thanks to a tribute video put together by Diana’s daughter, Tracee Ellis Ross.

So, perhaps it’s time we give “Work That Body” a little more respect.  It might not be a timeless classic on par with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” but it’s managed to gain more traction than many other singles released by Diana Ross.  And hell, at this point in history, maybe the fun of shouting “Eat your heart out!” along with her is exactly what we all need.

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Diana’s “Come Together” Hits Jet Chart (12/17/70)

I was doing some research recently and came across an interesting find in the December 17, 1970 issue of Jet (46 years ago this weekend!).  Although it was never released as a single, Diana’s recording of “Come Together” was ranked at #19 on the magazine’s Soul Brothers Top 20 chart that week.

“Come Together” was included on the 1970 LP Everything Is Everything, the second solo album from Miss Ross and one that’s often overlooked due to its relative lack of commercial success.  That said, it contains some great performances, including the UK #1 hit “I’m Still Waiting” and Diana’s version of Aretha Franklin’s “I Love You (Call Me),” which gained Miss Ross her second solo Grammy nomination.

“Come Together” is another exciting recording from Diana’s early solo career; the singer is breathy and soulful and sings over a rumbling track that sounds tailor-made for The Jackson 5.  It’s nice to see it at least gained a little airplay, even if Motown never really pushed it.  Notice, by the way, how Motown-heavy this chart is; several of the label’s top acts show up here, including The Spinners, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, and The Four Tops.  And, of course, sitting at #4 with “Stoned Love,” is Diana’s former group, The Supremes.

jet-12-17-70

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“Jet Letter” About Diana Ross/Billie Holiday Film (12/17/70)

Thought you’d all get a kick out of this letter printed in Jet magazine 46 years ago this month, on December 17, 1970.  Two years before the release of Lady Sings The Blues, the writer (a reader from New York) is praising the fact Diana Ross “will not play the role of Billie Holiday in the forthcoming film of the late Lady Day.”

It’s a good reminder that there was considerable criticism leveled at the idea of Diana Ross playing Billie Holiday, even before the official announcement that she would play the role.  It all seems funny in hindsight, of course, because not only did Diana Ross get the part, she turned it into a career-defining performance, gaining a historic Oscar nomination in the process and taking her recordings of the Billie Holiday songbook to #1 on the Billboard 200.

The writer of this letter hopes for an actress with the “greatness of soul” to play Billie Holiday; little did he (or many others, for that matter) realize that the former leader of The Supremes would be exactly the right person for the job.

jet-dec-17-1970

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