Inside Tracee Ellis Ross’ relationship with her mom, Diana Ross

Tracee Ellis Ross is best known for playing one of the quintessential TV matriarchs of the ’10s: Dr. Rainbow Johnson, a.k.a. the more grounded parent in an ABC sitcom that can’t seem to stop spawning spin-offs, Black-ish. But it turns out the actress had quite the inspiration when it came to portraying a great mom on the small screen.

For those of who you haven’t already guessed by her similar bushy Afro, smoky eyes, and familiar surname, the Golden Globe winner is the daughter of Motown graduate, disco goddess, and all-round musical legend Diana Ross. But while the former Supreme is renowned for being the utmost diva outside the home (just ask her former girl band members and staff at Heathrow Airport, if you need any proof), she appears to be far more down to earth when it comes to family matters.

In fact, barely an interview goes by without Tracee gushing about the self-proclaimed Boss and how she’s impacted both her personal and professional life for the better — and the feeling appears to be mutual, too. Here’s a closer look at the touching relationship between showbiz’s two most famous Rosses.

Diana Ross was a hands-on mother

Tracee Ellis Ross was born in 1972 and grew up in a period where her mother was busy establishing her solo recording career, venturing into the film world for the first time, and breaking new ground as an African-American woman. Therefore, you might expect that Diana Ross was one of those celebs who left most of the child-raising to the nannies. However, according to the first born of her two children with her first husband, music executive Robert Ellis Silberstein, the ex-Supreme was still very much a hands-on kind of parent. 

In a 2017 interview with Good Housekeeping, Tracee revealed just how hard her mother worked to ensure that she didn’t miss out on her kids growing up. “My mom has an amazing work ethic,” the actress said of the “I’m Coming Out” singer. “To her, ‘on time’ is 10 minutes early. I’ve never heard her complain. She was busy going to the supermarket, waking us up for school, sitting with us during dinner, recording while we were sleeping, never leaving for longer than a week so she wouldn’t be away from us.” Tracee added, “Whether she was about to go onstage or busy having a meeting, she never responded with, ‘Not now, I don’t have time.'”

Tracee Ellis Ross stole her mother's clothes

From figure-hugging bodysuits to fur-trimmed coats, Diana Ross never looks anything less than fabulous whenever she hits the red carpet. So, you perhaps can’t blame her kids for wanting to make the most of their famous mom’s stylish wardrobe from the moment they were old enough to play dress-up.

Her second oldest child, Tracee Ellis Ross, was particularly keen on borrowing clothes from her mother, although she freely admits she often did it without her permission. Speaking to W magazine in 2017, the Black-ish star said, “It sort of was more like stealing. I’m not going to lie. She would leave the house and I went in her room and looked out the window and saw her car go down the driveway, and I marched myself right into her bathroom and started taking clothes.” Tracee added, “What I liked to do is put them in my closet and live with them as if they were mine.”

Tracee also recalled how she was very nearly busted one time when Diana returned home unexpectedly to pick up a forgotten item. But the quick-thinking youngster managed to convince the singer that she was only in her closet as she wanted to help reorganize it.

Tracee Ellis Ross still takes her mother's fashion advice

Tracee Ellis Ross may well now be a super glamorous star in her own right — in fact, she was even appointed the host of the 2019 Fashion Awards, where she made quite the impression with a variety of dazzling outfits — but that hasn’t stopped her from keeping up the habit of borrowing from her mother’s wardrobe. 

During her chat with W, the actress said, “I go to my mom’s house — my mom has the most extraordinary taste, top to bottom, whether it’s the dishes or the clothes, from t-shirts to gowns to hats to coats.” Even when she’s not rummaging around Diana Ross’ own personal collection, Tracee still likes to get her famous mother’s opinion on all style matters. However, it seems as though the Motown legend isn’t a particularly outspoken fashion critic: according to Tracee, the “Endless Love” singer essentially “likes everything.”

But it’s not just advice on clothes that Tracee will happily take from mom Diana. If you’ve ever wondered what the Black-ish star would look like with a buzz cut, then you’re unlikely to find out. Tracee told W, “I have a really good mommy. She told me I should never cut my hair, and I haven’t cut my hair since.”

Diana Ross encouraged her daughter to be herself

With countless number one singles, box office hits, and prestigious awards to her name, Diana Ross was never the kind of mother who needed to live vicariously through her children. Indeed, all five of her biological kids followed her into the showbiz world: her first-born, daughter Rhonda Ross Kendrick, enjoyed a stint on Another World and has also forged a career as a jazz-soul singer; third daughter Chudney Ross has worked as a producer and production manager; son Ross Naess works as an actor-producer; and her youngest, son Evan Ross, is an actor and musician who was a regular of The CW’s 90210 reboot. However, the ex-Supreme was never a pushy mom.

While speaking with W magazine, Diana’s second-oldest child, Tracee Ellis Ross, reflected on how lucky she and her siblings were to have the freedom to find their own path: “She really gave us space and the courage to live the lives that we want to be living, and to have time to dream and conjure up the life that I wanted to be living. I could really curate or design the world I wanted to be living in.”

The former Girlfriends star also believes that, as a result, she’s learned not to get too hung up on what others think and possesses a “curiosity that pushes up against the status quo.” Tracee added, “I got to have the example of my parent really being her full self. It’s given me a lot in my life.”

Tracee Ellis Ross was introduced to a whole new world

Although Diana Ross tried to give her children the most normal childhood a multi-million-selling, award-winning, globally famous pop star can possibly give, there were several occasions when she would give them a peek into her crazy showbiz world. In fact, by the time she’d reached her teens, Tracee Ellis Ross had already been photographed by pop art icon Andy Warhol and developed a friendship with none other the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

Yes, The Wrap reports that during a 2014 Jimmy Kimmel Live! appearance, Tracee discussed the time she queried Jacko about the scat section lyrics to “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” Frustratingly, the musical maverick, who starred with her mother in The Wiz, didn’t give her a straight answer, saying, “I don’t know. What do you think I’m saying?” The youngster (jokingly?) believed that the scat section of the disco anthem was, “I’ve been saved by the sound of Michael’s song.” However, the studio audience didn’t seem too convinced she’d gotten them right.

Four years later, Tracee paid tribute to her late celeb pal on what would have been his 60th birthday on her Instagram account. Uploading a video of her mother and MJ performing one of his best-loved disco hits, “Rock with You,” in matching white suits, she captioned it simply with, “Mama & Michael.”

Diana Ross reportedly didn't approve of one particular boyfriend

There might be one area of her children’s lives that Diana Ross doesn’t allow so much freedom. According to the National Enquirer, the “Chain Reaction” vocalist was reportedly downright livid when daughter Tracee Ellis Ross began stepping out with music executive Bu Thiam, perhaps better known as R&B hitmaker Akon’s younger brother, back in 2011. 

Why did the Motown legend allegedly take such umbrage with her daughter’s beau? Well, the tabloid claimed that Diana wasn’t keen on the fact that members of Thiam’s family practiced polygamy: per Distractify, Akon once said, “I’m a polygamist. I will have as many wives as I can afford to have. All Africans believe in it. My dad has four wives.” It’s unclear whether Thiam’s anything like his brother in this regard. However, a source cited by the National Enquirer alleged, “Diana wants the best for all her children, and marrying into a family that practices polygamy was never in the cards for her kids.”

Neither Thiam nor the Rosses ever commented on the report, but his romantic relationship with Tracee eventually fizzled out by 2013. Three years later, Thiam revealed on The Breakfast Club that he’s remained close with the Black-ish star: “Yeah, I was in love, for sure … Me and Tracee gonna be lovers forever, you know what I’m saying? I really do believe that. Me and her have this genuine, unconditional relationship … And anybody that comes in my life, they have to know that and vice versa with her.”

Tracee Ellis Ross doesn't feel overshadowed by her mom

Some showbiz kids can understandably crumble under the pressure of living up to their famous folks, particularly if they enter the same industry. But not Tracee Ellis Ross. 

After becoming only the fifth woman of color to receive an Emmy nod in the outstanding lead actress in a comedy series category in 2016, the star was asked by People magazine whether the honor proved once and for all that she’d truly distanced herself from her celeb mom, Diana Ross. The actress, who had been nominated for playing Dr. Rainbow Johnson on Black-ish, replied, “I’ve never felt like I was in my mother’s shadow. If anything, I felt like I was in her embrace. So it’s never been an effort to do that.” 

Tracee has since been recognized in the same category on no fewer than three occasions, although she’s sadly not yet been given the chance to make an acceptance speech. Ahead of the 2020 Emmy Awards, for which she received her fourth nomination, Tracee told Variety that she still gets excited about the honor: “Are you kidding me? I will tell you though that it was not on my radar at all. I literally did not even know it was happening that morning. So when I turned on my phone, I was like, ‘What is going on?'” However, Tracee also revealed that she was still far more invested in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.  

Diana Ross is the first person Tracee Ellis Ross calls with good news

Tracee Ellis Ross was understandably ecstatic when she learned that she’d been recognized by the Emmy Awards for the very first time in her career in 2016. But after dancing and running around her dining room, the actress knew exactly who she wanted to share the news with first. The Black-ish star told People, “I opened my front door and I don’t know where I thought I was trying to go, so I closed the door and I called my mom. She was really cute and we screamed for a little bit.”

The actress certainly had plenty to celebrate on the day. In addition to her own outstanding lead actress nomination, Tracee was thrilled with the fact that the ABC show had been featured in the outstanding comedy series category: “It’s the sweetest thing in the world that we all get to celebrate in this together.”

Diana Ross was also one of the first people that Tracee contacted when she found out she’d been nominated for a Golden Globe that same year. The actress told ET, “My dad was really excited. I got him on the phone. I got my mom on the phone. My whole family is very excited. My mom in the text said, ‘I want this for you. I want this for you.'” Her mother’s well wishes seemed to do the trick, as Tracee was later crowned the winner. 

Diana Ross couldn't be prouder of her daughter

Diana Ross might not be a pushy stage mom, but that doesn’t stop her from telling the world about how proud she is of her children’s achievements. Indeed, as reported by ET in 2016, the ex-Supreme went to great lengths to share her joy at the news that daughter Tracee Ellis Ross had been nominated for one of the most prestigious awards in the TV industry.

Not content with just a simple congratulations card or celebratory message on social media, Diana went the extra mile by taking out an advertisement — and a full-page one at that — in The Hollywood Reporter. Alongside a picture of her second-born smiling while clasping her face, the ad featured the caption, “Congratulations to my daughter Tracee Ellis Ross on her nomination for Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her work on Black-ish. So proud of you. Love, Mom and the Ross family.” 

Thankfully, Tracee wasn’t at all mortified by this very public display of affection. In fact, she even shared the ad on her own Twitter profile with the caption, “OMG how cute r my mom @DianaRoss & family 4 taking an ad in @THR!” Sadly, Diana’s For Your Consideration-style efforts didn’t result in victory — Tracee lost out to Veep‘s Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Tracee Ellis Ross is supportive of her mom's talents

Tracee Ellis Ross appears to be just as supportive of her mom’s career. While hosting the American Music Awards in 2017, the Black-ish star and the rest of her family proudly watched from the sidelines as Diana Ross performed a medley of her biggest hits, including “I’m Coming Out” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” The Motown legend then invited all of her nearest and dearest in attendance to join her on the stage as she accepted the lifetime achievement award. 

Of course, Diana had served as host of the same ceremony way back in the mid-1980s, a fact that Tracee was keen to share in her opening monologue. Indeed, the actress told the audience, “We’re making history! We are the first mother and daughter who have ever hosted the American Music Awards. I mean, she did it twice, but there’s always next year…” (Tracee did actually go on to host the following year, too.)

Two years previously, Tracee had paid tribute to her famous mom in her own unique way. Indeed, apropos of nothing, the actress donned a number of one-piece swimsuits, lifted some weights, and showed off a few moves while recreating the exercise-themed video for Diana’s 1981 single. “Work That Body,” on Instagram. … Although we don’t remember the original featuring so many cupcakes.

Diana Ross gave daughter Tracee Ellis Ross one of the happiest moments of her life

Considering her mother is one of the world’s most popular female vocalists, you can understand why Tracee Ellis Ross may have been a little nervous showcasing her own vocal range. The actress even told the Daily Mail in June 2020 that, as a child, she’d been so afraid and shy to follow in her mother’s footsteps that she pleaded with her Swiss boarding school headmistress for permission to sit out a school production. Tracee admitted, “I said I thought it was unfair I was being asked to sing.”

Thankfully for the star, her first trip to the recording studio ended up making Diana Ross cry — and for all the right reasons, too. During an interview at the Dallas stop of Oprah Winfrey’s 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus Tour, the actress recalled the time when her mom first heard her sing in the 2020 movie, The High Note. Tracee said, “She pushed my arm and then she turned to me and her face was covered in tears. And she said, ‘Finally.”‘ 

The Black-ish actress described the moment as one of the “most beautiful” in her life, telling Winfrey that she’d also learned a valuable life lesson through the nerve-wracking playback: “I had to realize that it’s not the sound of my voice, it’s the honesty of my voice that is the key. I’m not supposed to sound like my mom.”

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