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SIMPLY JESSICA: Allison Semmes plays Diana Ross in Motown musical

Allison Semmes blinked twice. She couldn’t trust her own eyes. The classically trained musician doesn’t wear glasses.

Yet the Chicago native was having a hard time believing what she was seeing. She kept telling herself this is just a dream. It was not a dream. She was staring at Berry Gordy Jr.

Gordy was the man who founded Motown Records in 1959.

He launched the careers of the Supremes, the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and countless other musical artists of the 1960s and 70s. He dominated the music scene until he sold the company in 1988 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His interest in songwriting began as a 7-year-old boy.

Semmes was a musician looking to be cast as Diana Ross in “Motown The Musical” based upon the book “To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown” by Berry Gordy.

“Motown The Musical” is not just a memoir of Gordy’s life.

“It’s the story of how Motown came about and how Berry Gordy created the musical company and the sound throughout the years in America,” Semmes said. “You get to hear the Motown artists music and what was happing in America politically during that time.”

Semmes realized when the man in front of her shook her hand — that she was indeed standing in front of Berry Gordy. He was there to watch the show about his musical accomplishments.

“Berry is such a visionary person,” Semmes said. ”He pushes you to be better. He gave us notes and constantly told us to challenge ourselves. He was often at rehearsals, telling us how to be better.”

Semmes felt Gordy was pushing her fellow castmates in the same spirit that he pushed his Motown artists. She also felt genuine love from Gordy as he has the same midwestern realness that she has.

“Berry is a living legend,” Semmes added. “He is kind and real.”

Semmes wanted to have Gordy love her performance as Diana Ross.

“It doesn’t get any better than to have the blessings from the man that created all this,” Semmes said. “I can’t put it into words.”

Semmes was determined to show Gordy that she could transform herself into the iconic Diana Ross. Sure Diana Ross was from a different generation than she was. It was her parents that had grown up during the Motown era listening to Diana Ross’ music but that didn’t stop Semmes from tackling such an endeavor.

In fact she wanted to know who was Diana Ross.

“I wanted to know who is this amazing woman,” Semmes said. “She had such a sparkle and elegance about her that showed.”

Semmes watched as much footage of Ross as possible to help her learn how Ross moved, talked and performed as a singer.

“I call it YouTube university because there is so much 60s footage of her that I watched of her music,” Semmes said. “I also read her autobiography so I could understand her story even though it is Berry Gordy’s account of it, but I’m sure every Motown artist has their own version of the Motown experience. I wanted to figure out what was going on in her mind at the time she was at Motown.”

It was a long journey of praying and mediating before Semmes would be able to play the legendary Diana Ross in a musical.

“It feels like a purpose fulfilled,” Semmes said. “I feel so honored that my prayers have been answered. I’m aligned with what God wants for me to be doing at this time in life.

“Diana was such an elegant lady during the Motown period. I enjoyed the journey of playing Diana from girl to womanhood as she developed into her goddess status.”

Be yourself! I’m Simply Jessica JcAden. You can reach me at jess.gosnell@gmail.com.

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