Diana Ross and Evan Ross: The family connection bridging gap between 1972's 'Lady Sings the Blues' and 'United States vs. Billie Holiday'

Kevin Polowy
·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
·2 min read

Director Lee Daniels calls it “kismet.”

Fated or not, there’s a fun-facty familial connection between Daniels's new film, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, and the classic 1972 biopic Lady Sings the Blues.

The latter starred Diana Ross as the pioneering jazz singer just as Ross was launching a solo career after moving away from fronting Motown’s hugely successful Supremes. It was the singer’s first film role, and she triumphed in the part, earning one of the film’s five Oscar nominations while launching a successful acting career (The Wiz, Mahogany).

Meanwhile, The United States vs. Billie Holiday — which zeroes in on the government’s harassment of Holiday (played by “Rise Up” singer Andra Day, also drawing high praise) as her anti-lynching ballad “Strange Fruit” frazzled the J. Edgar Hoover-run FBI — co-stars Ross’s actor son, Evan Ross. The 32-year-old, best known for films like ATL and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, plays Sam Williams, a young agent hired by the corrupt and racist Harry J. Anslinger (Garrett Hedlund) to help bring down Holiday.

“Billie Holiday has obviously been a part of my life, and I love her music and I’ve been a fan of her work,” Evan Ross tells Yahoo Entertainment in a recent interview (watch above). “And I’ve known how important her story is, and I’ve learned more in this process than I have before. And it’s been a really amazing process for me, and I’m still learning now, because obviously Mom’s movie was something that people loved so much.

“It’s amazing that we’re getting to tell this story, and it’s amazing that they got to tell this story then. I’m happy to be part of something so powerful and amazing.”

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 17:  Evan Ross and Diana Ross arrives at the
Evan Ross and Diana Ross arrives at the The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 premiere on Nov. 17, 2014 in Los Angeles. (Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage)

Their new film is a reunion for Daniels (Precious, The Butler, Empire) and Ross after they previously worked on the Fox musical series Star, which also costarred another Billie Holiday cast member, Miss Lawrence.

“I guess it was kismet,” Daniels tells Yahoo Entertainment. “I like working with the same actors over and over again, if you really notice.

“And so, why not?”

The United States vs. Billie Holiday premieres Friday, Feb. 26 on Hulu.

Watch our Lee Daniels Game Changers interview:

Additional reporting by Brittany Jones-Cooper; video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by John Santo

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