Tracee Ellis Ross sings for the first time, breaks out of mom Diana Ross’ shadow
LOS ANGELES—“Wouldn’t that be weird?” Tracee Ellis Ross asked aloud with a laugh when she was told that should there be a biopic on her mom, pop legend Diana Ross, she should play her.
“I don’t know on that one,” Tracee answered when asked if she would consider playing Diana in case such a role was offered to her. “It would have to be a really good script.”
“I can definitely sing all the songs, I can tell you that,” Tracee confirmed with a grin that she knows her music superstar mom’s hits, many of which are Motown classics.
Teased that if such a project came true someday, would she have to ask Diana’s permission to play her? “Gosh, I don’t know,” she answered. “I mean, maybe. I think she would have to give me the rights, wouldn’t she?”
Tracee, the second oldest child of Diana, jokingly added, “I’ve got an in. I bet you she’ll take my call.”
In “The High Note,” Diana’s daughter with music executive Robert Ellis Silberstein sings on camera for the first time. Originally meant as a theatrical release, but debuted as a premium VOD release because of the coronavirus pandemic, “The High Note” stars Tracee as Grace Davis, a superstar singer, and Dakota Johnson as Maggie Sherwoode, the diva’s overworked personal assistant.
On whether there were scenes in the feel-good film, directed by Nisha Ganatra and written by Flora Greeson, that were reminiscent of her growing-up years with Diana, Tracee said, “Honestly, none of them. I understand the curiosity and comparison. There’s no way there couldn’t be. But the truth is, the character was on the page from the beginning. She did not remind me of my mom.
“The role was so well-written that there was no reason for me to call on any of that. I’ll say that what I borrowed from my mother was that I wore fake eyelashes (laughs), which my mom also wears onstage.
“I would say that the most challenging thing for me, once I was beyond the fear of singing was, how was I going to look like I had been performing onstage for decades, even though I, Tracee, am comfortable onstage. But I’m using a little comedy to hide behind all these things.
“Grace Davis doesn’t hide behind anything. She stands in her power when she’s onstage. And that doesn’t come easily, so I kept imagining what I know so well of my mother, how she has an ease and a sense of being at home when she is onstage.”
Now that she has sung publicly for the first time, the 2017 Golden Globe best actress in a TV series-musical or comedy winner for “Black-ish” admitted, “Yeah, I do think I’m forever changed. I’ve let a part of myself out that was hidden away. I’m experiencing a new kind of freedom that I’m grateful for.
“I’ve had great success with ‘Girlfriends’ and then ‘Black-ish.’ The material has kept me very interested for so many years. So, it took something really special for me to want to make the leap.
Added the actress, who was reportedly in a relationship with Abou “Bu” Thiam (music executive and singer Akon’s brother) for two years, “I was waiting for the right film project. If you wait this long, it feels like the same thing with a man. You wait for the right one. So, I pursued this script from the beginning. It felt like it was a combination of so many things that were important to me––the overall message of no matter where you are in your life and career, don’t let anyone’s idea of you limit you.
“And if you have a dream, pursue it. It’s about women finding their voices. I loved that this was a movie about two women who are not against each other but instead ended up supporting each other.”
“OK, the artist I could rattle off anything about on is Diana Ross,” Tracee said with a laugh when asked who is the star that she knows many things about. “I know all the facts (laughs). Every single one of them.”
“No, I’ve never met Diana Ross, but one day, maybe I’ll have dinner with her,” she joked in this video call. She was calling from her LA home. Her other pop favorites are Rihanna, Harry Styles and Beyoncé. “I could list people like those, but I’ve never been one of those people who does a deep dive on when their birthday is and all those things.”
Tracee was understandably wary of being a singer herself because of the huge shadow cast by her mom. Instead, Tracee carved her own career as an actress.
“I was afraid, then it was no longer a priority for quite some time,” Tracee said about her ambition to also be a singer. “I was so busy with the rest of my career. It felt daunting to step into the footsteps of my mother and what could be comparison and judgment. I was just waiting for the right opportunity and time, and this was it. It’s been so perfect.”
To complete her jump as a singer, Tracee released her first single, “Love Myself,” from the soundtrack of “The High Note.”
“The lyrics of ‘Love Myself’ and the message of the film are so important to me, particularly right now,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of you. It’s about loving yourself. I feel honored and grateful that all of a sudden, at 47, I got to start at the top, instead of having to work my way from the bottom.”
On working with Dakota, who’s also a child of celebrities (Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith), Tracee shared, “Working with Dakota was wonderful. We had a really good rapport. When I finally saw the movie, I was like, oh, I see the love between Tracee and Dakota came through.
“I was so grateful that the dynamic between Grace and Maggie didn’t come across like the typical shtick between diva and assistants. You could tell that there was a thread of trust there, although Grace didn’t recognize it at first.
“When she realized it, that’s what gave fruition to where they both end up being each other’s support. The fact is that I love that moment so much when Maggie is finally sitting in the producer chair, where so many women don’t get to sit. And Grace is behind the mic being supported by a woman, really letting her voice out.”
Asked whether singing and music will now be part of her career, Tracee exclaimed, “Yes!”
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