In January of 1979, Motown records was scheduled to release a new Diana Ross album where she performed the music of the Broadway show and, at the time, new movie The Wiz.
Ross starred in the movie version of the show as Dorothy opposite Michael Jackson's Scarecrow and recorded the album as a compliment to the already issued soundtrack album which was produced by Quincy Jones and Ashford and Simpson but the disc never made it to market.
On November 27, Motown/UMe released the long overdue to take advantage of the NBC live version of the show that aired last night starring Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, Ne Yo, Common, Uzo Aduba, Amber Riley and Shanice Williams.
After filming of the movie was complete in 1978, 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. 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.
Additionally, NBC's musical television production of The Wiz Live! is coming to DVD on December 22, 2015 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, just in time for the holidays.
Track listing for Diana Ross Sings Songs from The Wiz:
- The Feeling We Once Had
- He's The Wizard
- Soon As I Get Home
- Trio Medley: You Can't Win / Slide Some Oil To Me / (I'm A) Mean Ole Lion
- Ease On Down The Road
- Be A Lion
- So You Wanted To Meet The Wizard
- Is This What Feeling Gets? (Dorothy's Theme)
- Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News
- Wonder Wonder Why
- A Brand New Day (Everybody Rejoice)
- Believe In Yourself