9 thoughts on “TBT: Lady Sings the Blues (1972)

  1. I am not a Ross fan though I thought the movie was good. I agree with a reviewer who many years ago described her voice as ‘reed thin’. My understanding is that she was placed as the the front woman for the Supremes based on her looks and not her (underwhelming) voice. Her bandmates had better voices than she and I feel sorry for them.

    1. In addition to looking “whiter,” Ross was also believed to sound whiter than Florence Ballard—the original leader (who had a gospel-music background)—and was moved to the front in order to attract more crossover audiences.

      As for emulating Holiday’s voice and style, Audra MacDonald used her classical technique to come a lot closer than Ross.

      1. Another version of backing Ray Charles with those awful white-bread choruses so he’d sound less black and scary or whatever.

    2. Admittedly, I saw “Lady” long ago, just after it came out, and I had been smoking hash, so the movie itself seemed entrancing. But I’m not a Ross fan, either. She gave a fine star performance, but she’s nothing at all like Holiday, physically or vocally. (Speaking of the Supremes, I wonder what Flo Ballard could have done with the role?)

      …Just watched McDonald singing Holiday on YouTube. Now there’s a star who’s also a real musician.

  2. Big Holiday fan here. Her voice is what led me to start a vast CD collection of African American Jazz and Blues Women singers from the early 1900’s to the the 1940’s. The complexity of emotions and atmosphere conveyed in blues is a must when writing historical fiction of the early 20th century in the States.

    Their biographies/biopics need to be heard and seen more! Thank you for this post!

    More of a fan of Ross’s daughter Tracee Ellis Ross than her per se, but I have seen Mary Wilson live in concert and her performance was incredible.

  3. I was never a fan of Holiday and felt guilty for that, since her story is so hard and she was treated like crap so unfairly so many times. Not a Ross fan either, for reasons in comments above, and because she seemed much more about the fame and ego than actual talent, and I read some autobiographies of those who worked with her. (Sorry folks who disagree–just my opinion.) I do however give her credit for helping Adam Ant, who was pretty much the lone white face invited to perform at the big Motown anniversary in the 80s or so, and he was told to do Where Did Our Love Go?, and he felt like a real fish out of water during it until Diana Ross came onstage, all unscripted, to flirt with him during the song and thus give it her stamp of approval (as per his autobiography). I thought that was handsome of her to do so.

    I remember this film being a huge hit when it came out but have not seen it in decades, if ever. Thanks for the writeup and the reminder to see it again. Even with costume mileage varying, the music and story seem worthwhile.

  4. I did a lot of research on Billie Holiday when I wrote Scandalous Women, so I watched the film as part of it. Not a huge fan of this film. I think that Audra MacDonald came much closer to the spirit of Billie Holiday than Diana Ross. She had none of the real rawness of Holiday who wasn’t afraid to throw down, nor did they really touch that much on Billie’s bisexuality in the film. Man, she had some terrible husbands as well.

  5. Interesting so many comments are not really about the Oscar nominated acting but more about the person of Miss Ross. Then the comparison to an Audra McDonald one night concert play as opposed to a full length feature film ??? A parody compared to a biographical piece.meant to tell a woman’s STORY not to mimic just ONE of her more pitifully drugged out performances ….which by the way even Ross was wise enough to know NOT to try to mimic a woman who CANNOT be duplicated in any way! Well that is why she was nominated in the first place….because the PERFORMANCE not Diana’s personality ….was what was nomination worthy a GREAT film LOVELY music LOVELY vocals! YES I do love Miss Ross’ work however i KNOW the film is GREAT because as much as I love to see her performance it is a hard watch and I watch sparingly because there is a foreboding darkness about the film, the tragic undertone of the facts of Billie’s life are hard to watch. I feel her pain & Diana captures it perfectly because she is the opposite personality type of Billie YET she takes me there. The scene where Louis comes to her aid after piano man dies ??????? WHAT soulless being could NOT see the EXCELLENCE of emotion Diana put in that scene ALONE? Yes you have to see the FILM ITSELF on IT”S MERITS and not moan about a book that speaks about those who worked for Diana Ross the person. Or grieve how Florence might have played a part when she made it clear she was not to be put to task by anyone let alone a man like bossy Berry Gordy as she is quoted that she could NOT be controlled or what have you where is Diana took Berry’s direction as a challenge to give her BEST (yeah you kinda want to impress the boss as opposed to pissing him off) she is quoted as saying if he believed she could do it she found she would do it & do it WELL! This chain is about THE FILM not about Diana Ross the person FOCUS …btw it was a GREAT FILM point blank period LOL!

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