Retro Rewind: Diana Ross’ ‘Lady Sings The Blues’

Published: Saturday 28th May 2016 by David

Welcome to Retro Rewind, the TGJ original feature carved out to celebrate TV and Film’s glorious past.

Today, we revisit 1972 to celebrate ‘Lady Sings the Blues’, the Billie Holiday  biographical drama loosely based on her 1956 autobiography.

Starring Diana Ross, the movie told Holiday’s painful tale following her passing in 1952 and saw Ross portray the performer with support from her co-stars Richard Pryor, Billy Dee Williams, Virginia Capers and Paulene Myers.

The movie stood as one of many film projects launched to propel Ross into Hollywood and was nominated for five Academy Awards after picking up $19,726,490 at the Box Office with support from a $14 million budget.

More below…

A review of the movie published in 1972 shared:

Sidney J. Furie, the director and the three people credited with the screenplay, cannot use the basic truth of their facts as a defense of the film, although the facts have been generalized to protect the innocent (and the people who wouldn’t give releases to the producers). They’ve made trite and meaningless such things as the child rape, indentured servitude in a Harlem whorehouse and an addiction to drugs that eventually contributed to Lady Day’s death at age 44. It all becomes ridiculous.

Witness the way they introduce one of Miss Holiday’s most successful songs. Time: late 1930’s. Place: somewhere in the South, though the terrain looks like Lake Tahoe. Miss Holiday is on a big-band bus tour when she suddenly finds herself witnessing a lynching. She staggers back in terror. On the soundtrack we hear—can it be?—it sounds familiar, but yet—yes, it is! The opening bars of “Strange Fruit!” This Billie Holiday has what might be called a prescient ear.

Under such imbecilic circumstances, it’s not yet possible to tell whether Miss Ross is a good actress, but she’s an actress of exceptional beauty and wit, who is very much involved in trying to make a bad movie work.


What do you think of the movie?

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  1. CHAKA May 28, 2016

    Love Diana. Double Platinum is one of my movies, too! Right behind Love Jones, my all time fave.

  2. Skyfall May 28, 2016

    Love Diana Ross.

  3. Jon Jon May 28, 2016

    Wow!!!! Thank you for posting this.

  4. whenindoubtthetruthwillout May 28, 2016

    Diana Ross – a true legend and icon!!!!!!

  5. josh May 28, 2016

    A brilliant movie, was it 100% faithful to the Billie Holiday story? No. But of course it wasn’t, it’s Hollywood after all.

  6. Coolness May 28, 2016

    Is it me or is Diana not celebrated enough as a music legend? She was pretty much the first Black Pop Star – a groundbreaking feat that allowed countless artists to follow in her footsteps. Also, seeing as she wasn’t a traditional actress but her first film role garnered her an Oscar nod, she pretty much made Hollywood wake up and realise singers could also crossover into movies and be successful (see Whitney and Beyoncé).

    • JOHNVIDAL May 28, 2016

      When it comes to being a pioneer yes. But I just think industry and people in general have never taken her as so raw talented as a Whitney Houston or Barbra Streisand and the likes.

      • Coolness May 28, 2016

        Spot on. Diana was beautiful, glamorous, marketable, charismatic and has classic records under her belt. However, voice – reedy and thin albeit appealing – could never stack up against other powerhouses of her time (having a big, soulful voice was much more revered back then). It’s the reason why many felt Whitney adopted the template Diana formed but took it incredible heights simply because she had the vocal ability Di didn’t.

    • Boi May 29, 2016

      I think Diana Ross get’s mad props for being a pioneer and one of the first Black mega/Pop stars, but like people have said, she is more revered for her general Pop appeal more than her vocal appeal, which I think her vocal appeal is underrated. But, that’s not a bad thing. Her voice was different from black artist of her time, but that was her appeal and what made her more mainstream and successful in the Pop world than many of her contemporaries. I think the opinion of the appeal of her voice varies by culture. Her voice is praised and seen as beautiful for many non-blacks and or fans that prefer more melodic singing versus the soulful belts of traditional soul music, like Aretha Frankllin.

      Most major stars including Whitney, Beyonce have revered Diana Ross as one of their inspirations. They are all successful in their own way and for different reasons, in different eras. But, there is no comparison in areas where they are more dominate and more talented.Everyone has their strong and weak areas as a whole. Whitney had the stronger voice, but not as versatile and talented in other areas, like acting or stage presence as Diana Ross (although I love Whitney’s movies and concerts). The same can be said for Streisand and other stars who are revered for their vocals, but lack in other areas. Streisand wasn’t popping in the clubs (except a song she had with Donna Summer). So, she is famous and revered in a different area.

      Diana is a multi-talented, multi-talented, well rounded artist with an endless combined catalog and career starting with lead singer of the most successful girl group in the world to a Pop solo megastar who went beyond the boundaries of race. I don’t think people forget, I think she doesn’t need to remind people and is happy with both her past and present, unlike other artist of her era that wants to keep reminding people of their relevance.

      But, in a way Diana Ross is more celebrated and iconic than her R&B contemporaries if you look at movies like Dream Girls and Sparkle being loosely based and inspired by her life as a Supreme, as well as the first Woman to headline the Superbowl halftime show. Her movies and their soundtracks have always been black cinema classics that have survived generations.

  7. JOHNVIDAL May 28, 2016

    Wow now this really is a retro rewind 🙂 and not when these guys rewind to… 2008 lol

  8. BeyKnowlesBest May 28, 2016

    Love this classic she played the drug addict roll so well I often wondered if she ever had one in real life..the part when they kill Richard Pryor was very sad..

  9. Gee May 28, 2016


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