One of the most iconic albums from R&B/Pop/Disco Diva, Diana Ross celebrates a milestone this weekend. Ross’ tenth studio album, Diana, was released 40 years ago on May 22, 1980. Produced by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers of the disco group Chic, Diana, in its original form, was criticized for being “too-Chic-like” by Motown Records and Ross herself.
Fearing the record would suffer from disco backlash, Ross enlisted Motown’s house engineer, Russ Terrana to create a smoother mix. This remix caused some tension for Motown from Rodgers and Edwards to the point the producers wanted their names taken off the album. However, cooler heads prevailed, and Rodgers and Edwards names remained on the album.
The legacy of Diana was it gave the world two of Ross’ most well-known singles, “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out.” The former became the singer’s fifth solo single to go to #1 and the latter became an instant anthem for the LGBT community.
The inspiration for “I’m Coming Out” happened when Rodgers saw Diana Ross impersonators at GG’s Barnum Room, a transgender club in Manhattan.
“I ran outside and called Bernard and told him about it and said, ‘What if we recognize Diana Ross’s really cool alignment with her fan base in the gay community?’ So we sat down and wrote, ‘I’m Coming Out,’” Rodgers said to the New York Post in an interview.
While Ross loved the song and connected to the lyrics as empowering, Rodgers explained, “But she didn’t understand that that was a gay thing, that that was a person saying, ‘I’m coming out of the closet.’”
After playing “I’m Coming Out” for Frankie Crocker, an influential DJ, Crocker thought the song would be interpreted that Ross was gay. However, Rodgers persuaded Ross to keep the song.
“I said, ‘Diana, this song is gonna be your coming-out song. We think of you as our black queen,’” Rodgers said to the Post. “And I even wrote a [horn] fanfare. I explained to her that it’s just like when the president comes out and they play ‘Hail to the Chief.’”
Diana went on to be certified Gold and Platinum by RIAA on February 3, 1981. “I’m Coming Out” to this day is still considered as an anthem for the LGBT community and is a staple in drag queen performances.