After 37 years, “Diana Ross Sings Songs From The Wiz” is getting its release digitally on November 27 through Motown/ Universal Music Enterprises in time for a revival of the original stage musical, airing live in primetime on NBC, December 3, features chart-topping music superstars Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, Ne Yo and Common, Orange Is The New Black’sUzo Aduba, Glee’s Amber Riley, and newcomer Shanice Williams as Dorothy.
“Diana Ross Sings Songs from The Wiz” was originally scheduled for release on Motown Records inJanuary 1979, after the film version of the hit Broadway musical premiered in October, 1978. After filming, Ross had entered the studio in Los Angeles at the request of Motown, which commissioned producer/arranger Lee Holdridge to record her singing cover versions of the songs from The Wiz, assuming all the roles, delivering what we now can hear as a tour-de-force performance. Recreating not only her part as the naive Dorothy on the smash “Ease on Down the Road,” which she performed as a duet with a young Michael Jackson in the film, the signature “Is This What Feeling Gets?” and the Luther Vandross-penned show-stopper, “A Brand New Day (Everybody Rejoice),” Ross also took on the goofy Scarecrow (“You Can’t Win”), the yearning Tin Man (“Slide Some Oil To Me”), the tough, but tender-hearted Lion (“[I’m a Mean] Old Lion”), the endearing mother figure Aunt Em (“The Feeling We Once Had”), the eccentric Wiz (“So You Wanted To Meet the Wizard”), the Evil Witch (“Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News”) and the heroic Good Witch (“Believe In Yourself”).
“We literally ran into the studio in a great hurry to do this,” recalls Holdridge, who had previously worked with Ross handling orchestrations and arrangements for the feature film Mahogany, and co-produced the album with Suzanne dePasse and Ross. “We knew all the keys and stuff like that, so we tried to emulate what some of the film tracks were like. Diana was excited about it.”
It had been a long-standing dream for Diana Ross to play Dorothy, and singing all the songs for this album was a tribute to her versatility as a vocalist. Her emotion can be felt on two ballads that didn’t make the movie’s final cut, including “Wonder Wonder Why,” written for the original stage show, but deleted before opening, and Ashford & Simpson’s “Is This What Feeling Gets?,” with music from Quincy Jones, which was recorded for and included in the film soundtrack, but deleted from the movie itself. Until the belated release of “Diana Ross Sings Songs from The Wiz”, the only track that had been available was “Home,” as part of her 2001 Motown Anthology compilation. That song remained a staple of Miss Ross’ stage show for years, along with, for a short while, a truncated performance of the album in which she played all the parts, just as she does on this long-unavailable release.
Ross’s solo take on the project was intended to complement the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack of The Wiz, which was produced by Quincy Jones and Ashford & Simpson. The soundtrack was a commercial success reaching gold status in the US and spawning the top 40 single, “Ease On Down The Road” featuring Diana Ross and a 20-year-old Michael Jackson.