Q&A: Diana Ross on longevity and life off the stage

Diana Ross seen here performing on her "I Love You" North American tour.
(Jason DeCrow / AP)
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To swipe a line from one of her most famous tunes, ain’t no mountain high enough for Diana Ross.

The pop diva is nearly six decades into a career and has zero intention of slowing down. She recently issued “Diamond Diana,” a greatest hits collection offering a brief glimpse of her most essential work, and she’s prepping a return to Las Vegas next year for a limited residency at Wynn Las Vegas following a sold-out engagement this fall.

On Sunday, the American Music Awards will honor Ross with the Lifetime Achievement award for her formidable career – one that includes 18 No. 1 hits, a dozen Grammy nominations, a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Kennedy Center Honors, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and album sales that make her the most successful female artist in history according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Between rehearsals for her performance on Sunday’s telecast, we chatted with Ross over email about her career, longevity and her life off the stage.

What can we expect from your Lifetime Achievement Award performance?

I am trying to put my entire career into 10 minutes. The most exciting part for me is that I am being honored by my music peers — and my children, who mean the world to me, will be there. I also invited Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson, who have been so key in the early days of my career. That my daughter Tracee [Ellis Ross] will be hosting the evening makes it truly a family affair. I am humbled by it all.

You've hosted twice. Has Tracee come to you for tips?

My daughter Tracee is my mentor and my teacher. People are always asking me if I give them advice, but it’s been a flip. I now get my advice from my children.

To what, if anything, do you credit your longevity in this industry?

The love and joy of performing. The harmony of life. The love of family.

After all these years of performing, do you ever get nerves onstage? What do you do to ease them?

When I was just beginning in the industry, I would tell my dad that I felt nervous. He was so wonderful. He explained that the feeling of nerves is exactly like the feeling of excitement. So I know that whatever I’m feeling it was more excitement and joy of wanting to do my passion.

What makes you happiest while onstage?

I’ve said it before and it is so real for me to be able to connect with my audience. To connect with their eyes and their memories and the joy of music.

What song is your personal favorite to perform and why?

There are so many. "Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” sounds like a prayer or an affirmation. Every time I perform it ... I would say it’s as if the audience is waiting for it.

Ross has a long history with the American Music Awards. She attended the first ceremony and hosted the show in 1986 and 1987. Here she is at the 2014 ceremony.
(Frederic J. Brown / AFP / Getty Images)

In your opinion what makes the perfect pop song?

When it connects with a feeling — ”heart to heart."

Next month will be the 55th anniversary of the Supremes’ first album. What’s your favorite memory about recording the album?

Motown was genius! It put all of this energy together and created music that traveled around the entire world. Berry Gordy had a vision, and so did I. We were surrounded by [so much] talent, and that combination of harmony and family became one. It was spectacular then, and it’s spectacular today.

When you started off on your solo career, how tough was it navigating the industry as a black woman then? Do you think the industry has gotten easier, or tougher on women of color?

Music does not have a color. Great music is great music.

What did you learn early on in your career that you always try to pass on to new artists?

Be a good example. Be the light. Be joyful. Do your passion. Have fun.

If we looked at the last songs your played at home, what would we find?

India Arie. The songs my daughter Rhonda writes.

You seem to have a ton of fun using Twitter. What is it that appeals to you about the platform?

It’s personal, joyful, fun, true and authentic.

And Twitter helped you get your fanny pack back.

It was an incredible experience. It let me know that there are wonderful loving people in our world. It was just an incredible reminder of that.

You’ve got a few lazy days after a string of shows, what does Diana Ross do to unwind?

I sleep well. I read positive thinking books before bed so that good thoughts are in my head, in my mind. And I connect with my family and my grandkids.

Ross performing during her “Endless Memories” residency at the Encore Theater inside Wynn Las Vegas in October 2017.
(Fred Rimando)

What are you reading or binge watching these days?

I really don’t read a lot of fiction. I read gardening and cookbooks. I watch "black-ish." I try not to watch negative television, but I’m kind of stuck on Netflix.

Your film debut, “Lady Sings the Blues,” was 45 years ago. Do you remember what you felt like when it premiered?

I never really thought of being an actress. I had people who believed I could do anything I set my mind to — my mother said I was a jack-of-all-trades. Berry Gordy also saw something in me. He believed we could create magic — and we did. I love that film. I was very proud of it and I loved the people I worked with — Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor, so many others.

You just released a new greatest hits collection. When it comes to curating a package, where do you start?

These are the songs I found through my travels that the audiences really enjoyed and loved and wanted to hear. I would have liked to do an album with every song that I’ve ever, ever, ever, ever recorded. Maybe that’s possible one day!

What’s next for Diana Ross?

To be continued … and continuing forward.

‘2017 American Music Awards’

Where: ABC

When: 8 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-14-DLS (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14, with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and sexual content)