What You Don't Know About Tracee Ellis Ross

There was a time when Tracee Ellis Ross was known as an aspiring young actress whose chief claim to fame was being the daughter of Motown legend Diana Ross, who charted umpteen singles with The Supremes and umpteen more as a solo artist. Those days, however, are far behind Tracee, now that she's established herself as an actor of formidable range and talent. 

While nostalgia-driven fans will look back fondly on her eight seasons in the ensemble cast of "Girlfriends," Ross has become far better known for her role as Dr. Rainbow "Bow" Johnson on groundbreaking ABC sitcom "Black-ish." Not only has her "Black-ish" performance earned Ross critical acclaim and legions of fans, it's also won her six Emmy nominations — with five of those in the Lead Actress in a Comedy category (via Emmys). Meanwhile, she expanded her characterization of Bow in the spinoff "Mixed-ish," in which she provided voiceover narration in the series, based on the childhood exploits of Bow, her mixed-race siblings, and their parents.

Ross is proof that there may indeed be a genetic component to talent, yet she's also worked hard to climb to the pinnacle of success. Discover more about this multitalented actor, producer, and fashion maven. Here's what you don't know about Tracee Ellis Ross.

She was understandably nervous about comparisons to her famous mom when she first had to sing onscreen

As an actor whose mother is one of the most popular, iconic singers of the 20th century, it's not surprising that Tracee Ellis Ross wasn't exactly champing at the bit to land a role that would require her to showcase her own vocal abilities. Yet that's precisely what she did when she signed on to the 2020 movie "The High Note," playing a character described as a singing superstar (via Focus Features). 

However, singing is something Ross tried to avoid for her entire life, and understandably so. Who in their right mind would want to invite comparisons to the lead singer of The Supremes? In an interview with The Guardian, Ross recalled being cast in a mandatory school production of "The Pirates of Penzance" and begging the headmaster to not have to sing. "I just mouthed the words," she admitted.

In fact, she took on "The High Note" not only because she loved the script but also in order "to face one of my biggest childhood fears. And, typical me, I didn't do it small — I decided to do it as the lead in a movie playing a musical diva." Ultimately, she was happily surprised by the results. "At 47 years old, to go into the studio and start singing, and discover that I actually had a voice that could work ... it was life-changing for me," she marveled.

Tracee Ellis Ross has come to accept her status as a singleton

Tracee Ellis Ross has never been married and has no children — and she's totally cool with that. In an interview with Harper's Bazaar, she revealed that getting married and starting a family was something she'd always envisioned for herself but never managed to make happen. "And I would still love [a wedding], but what am I going to do, just sit around, waiting?" Ross said. "Shut up. I've got so many things to do." Describing herself to Harper's Bazaar as "happily single," she added, "[T]hat doesn't mean I am not open to and don't want a relationship. But in my wonderful and robust experience of being single, I have learned to have a productive relationship with loneliness and an intensely juicy relationship with my joyful solitude — I really enjoy my company."

The key to her life of singleness, she explained in an interview with Glamour, was that she "had to really make friends with loneliness. And know the difference between choice-ful solitude and lonely."

And while she admitted that answering journalists' questions about being single was something she used to find irritating, she's since come to a different perspective. As she told The Guardian, she now sees that line of questioning as "an opportunity for me to expand somebody's idea of the world and add something different."

The star's hilarious response to criticism of her twitching eye at the AMAs

In 2017, Tracee Ellis Ross added a new entry to her curriculum vitae: award show host. For both that year and 2018, Ross hosted the American Music Awards, which synergistically aired on ABC, the same network that broadcast her sitcom "Black-ish." 

During her 2017 hosting stint, noted Allure, some viewers were less focused on her snappy hosting patter and frequent costume changes than they were on one of her eyes. As those viewers commented on social media, that eye seemingly had a mind of its own and occasionally twitched throughout the show. 

Ross was aware of all the attention that had been heaped upon her twitching eye and fired back with a hilarious response. "Guys, I finished the show, I'm back in my sweats, praise Jesus. And listen to me: My left eye has literally — my left eye is at home and in bed. It's like, 'Bye! I'm done working.' My left eye is done," she joked in a video she posed on Instagram. She continued on, saying she knew that viewers made fun of her eyes, but it wasn't her fault. "My body does what it does, I don't know why. But sometimes when I'm tired, this one just gives up, and it's like, 'Goodnight!' I don't — you explain it to me!"

Every item in her home has its own story

For Tracee Ellis Ross, her home is a sanctuary where she loves to feel surrounded by things with deep, personal meaning for her. In an interview with Financial Times, Ross was asked to single out the one item in her home with which she can never part — but couldn't bring herself to winnow it down to just one. 

"Everything in my home has a story," she explained. "This couch I'm sitting on, it's from college and it's been reupholstered about 63 times. There's an origami bird mobile hanging from a chandelier that was made for me by a friend. Everything is a treasure." One of these treasures sits in her kitchen, "a cake stand I found in an antique store in Italy one summer and carried across Europe." While she concedes that it's not particularly "pretty" — let alone the fact that she has never in her life baked a cake — she was nonetheless drawn to that particular cake stand, which remains "a really good souvenir of that trip to Italy."

Her favorite room in her home, she revealed, is the bedroom. "I love the light in my bedroom," she said. "To be more specific, my bed. It's my favorite place — I'll lie there and listen to audiobooks before going to sleep."

While launching her acting career, Tracee Ellis Ross interned at a fashion magazine

Tracee Ellis Ross may have been born in the lap of luxury, but she sure wasn't brought up that way. Mom Diana Ross, she explained in an interview with The Guardian, saw to that. "I've always been taught that you work for the things you want," Ross explained. "My mom always joked: 'I'm not leaving you guys any of this money. I made this money for me! I'll make sure there's a roof over your head. You can have health insurance and food. But other than that ...' I mean, I had a job in high school ... There was a commitment on her part to a normalcy that I have taken into my adult life."

This resulted in Ross working as an intern for now-defunct fashion magazine Mirabella, she told W Magazine. The internship, she explained, reflected the keen interest in fashion she's had all her life. "I had wanted to model when I was younger and then that kind of translated into me realizing that I was in love with images and the fashion industry," she explained, while pointing out that while in college she also discovered a love of acting. This led her to simultaneously intern at the magazine while taking acting lessons. 

Ultimately, she said, acting won out over fashion when she "just kind of jumped off the cliff into the acting world."

The actor views hair care as an 'ongoing adventure'

Tracee Ellis Ross is now known for her distinctive curly hair, yet when she was younger, she felt out of place because none of her classmates had hair like hers. "I did all the things I thought I was supposed to do to try and make my hair cool, make me loveable, make me pretty, make me likeable by guys — the whole thing," she said in an interview with Byrdie. "So, when I started the journey of understanding and loving my hair and my curls, it was a process."

Admitting this led to some "questionable hairstyles" during her teen years, she told Vogue about the satisfaction of ultimately coming to embrace her hair. "My journey to loving my hair has been an ongoing adventure, hard-earned," she explained, adding that part of her journey included simple trial and error or finding products that worked for her. She also referenced the importance of letting her hair do what it's going to do instead of trying to control it and make it into something else.

It was that complex relationship with her hair, in fact, that led her to launch her own line of hair products, Pattern. "I've been dreaming of launching a haircare line for so long, because there is a community of extraordinary people — a big, bold, stunning community — that has unmet beauty needs that have not been addressed, not been serviced, not been understood, not been cared for, not been celebrated," she told Byrdie.

Why Tracee Ellis Ross believes she's 'only gotten better with age'

It's no secret that the typical Hollywood career for a female actor is one of diminishing returns once middle age approaches. That, however, hasn't been the case for Tracee Ellis Ross, who experienced her biggest career success in her 40s. "What I know is I have only gotten better with age," Ross said in an interview with BBC News. She added that, nearing the age of 50, she felt sexier than she ever had. She also said it was "absurd" that women past a certain age in the entertainment industry are sometimes overlooked.

Ross didn't have to look too far afield to point to an example, referencing mother Diana Ross. "My mom on stage now at 76 is like, I think she's better than she's ever been!" she declared.

Looking at the changing paradigm in Hollywood, which has certainly not been subtle about prizing youth, Ross added: "I don't think youth is everything, I just don't. That wonderful expression 'youth is wasted on the young' is great. I mean there are so many good things about youth, but I don't wanna go back, I'll tell you that right now — I wouldn't go back to my 20s if you paid me."

Eight seasons on Girlfriends didn't open as many doors as she expected

Embarking on an acting career after graduating college, Tracee Ellis Ross had amassed a few small screen roles before landing her big break in 2000 when she was cast in "Girlfriends" (via IMDb). Debuting on the now-defunct UPN network before eventually moving to its successor, The CW, "Girlfriends" proved to be a hit, running until 2008.

While an eight-season run is both respectable and enviable in the world of television, the expectations that Ross held from that success proved to be unrealistic. "I thought 'Girlfriends' was going to open up the pearly gates of Hollywood," Ross admitted during a 2017 panel discussion at the Paley Center for Media's Paleyfest, as reported by Page Six

The fact that didn't happen really hit home when she auditioned for "Black-ish." During a voiceover audition for the sitcom, she revealed, the sound technician who was recording her audition had no idea who she was. "He's like, 'I mean, you are just funny! Where have you been?' and I'm like, 'I was on a show called 'Girlfriends,' and he goes 'But it wasn't on like network television,' and I was like 'Yeah, it was,' he goes 'But it wasn't a comedy,' I was like, 'Yeah, it was' and he goes 'Well you weren't like a lead' and I was like 'Yeah, I was' and, it just went on and on," she recalled. "It was very humbling," she admitted.

The lessons the actor learned when stepping behind the camera to direct

In addition to her work as an actor, Tracee Ellis Ross has also quietly dipped her toe into directing. According to her IMDb credits, Ross made her directorial debut with a 2008 episode of "Girlfriends" and followed that up by directing two episodes of "Black-ish," one in 2018 and another in 2019. 

As she explained in a 2018 interview with Variety promoting the second "Black-ish" episode she directed, Ross admitted that her favorite part of the directing process actually takes place after filming has completed and she begins editing together the footage she's shot. "It's like when you buy a great pair of shoes and you buy a great pair of pants and when you go in the closet, you pull everything out and you make a great outfit and you're like, 'Yeah, that's right,'" she said. "You get to see the work and you put everything out and together ... I find it incredibly exciting."

In a different interview with Variety, Ross also pointed to the inherent difficulties in doing double duty as actor and director — not just because of the additional workload but also from being forced to examine herself critically onscreen. "I think the biggest difficulty for me is having to think about what I look like," she explained. "Because as a director, I put my hands all over my face while I'm watching the monitor."

Saying goodbye to Black-ish proved more emotional than Tracee Ellis Ross expected

In the spring of 2021, ABC announced plans to renew "Black-ish" for an eighth season. The renewal, however, was bittersweet, given the announcement also revealed that Season 8 would be the series' last. 

Ahead of production, Tracee Ellis Ross reflected on being able to go into the season knowing it would be the final one — something that doesn't happen that often in the mercurial world of television. "I will tell you what the most beautiful thing is ... but I've never had the opportunity to walk into a final season knowing it's the final season," she told Entertainment Tonight. "So, being able to take in all of the beauty of it and all of the things we've appreciated all of these years but then really be awake to it — I'm looking forward to that and I know it's going to be hard."

In a subsequent interview with Entertainment Tonight, once filming had begun, Ross opened up about the emotions she was experiencing. "I can tell you I drove off the lot the other day crying, because I'm already ... we're a family. We've been working with this incredible group of people for eight years now," Ross explained, noting that her relationship with her co-workers wasn't just a business one; it was "personal."

The star has carved out a niche as a fashion icon

Fashion has long been a passion for Tracee Ellis Ross, which she attributes to mom Diana Ross. "My style icon is my mother — she is the one individual who has had the greatest impact on my style," Ross divulged in an interview with Financial Times. In fact, as she revealed to Vanity Fair, her mother's closet offered plenty of inspiration. "Before my career got to a certain place, I did a lot of either designing my clothes or wearing things out of my mother's closet," she explained. "Although they weren't taken out of my mother's closet to the red carpet, they were 'stolen' from my mom's closet and living in my closet, and I had the distinct honor of choosing them for whatever the event was."

Ross views fashion as more than just looking good. "For me, fashion started as a way to protect myself — to have a bit of control over how the world perceives me," she once told CNN. And while her style choices started off as a form of protection, she said that it's evolved for her into "a form of creative expression."

When it comes to deciding what to wear on any given day, Ross told Good Housekeeping, she tends to select clothing that "makes my heart sing. I can come to work at 5 in the morning in a fabulous outfit because it's what makes me happy."

She has a complicated relationship with Halloween

Some celebrities tend to go all out for Halloween. Model Heidi Klum, for example, throws an annual Halloween bash at which she debuts wildly inventive, over-the-top costumes (via Good Housekeeping). Tracee Ellis Ross, on the other hand, is no fan of that particular day. "I'm sorry, my mother said not to use the word 'hate,' but I hate that holiday," she declared during a 2020 appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" and proceeded to explain why (via YouTube).

"My birthday is October 29," she said. "So by about 14 years old I was dones-ville with Halloween." She admitted she'd put in her time at Halloween parties over the years, dressing up as everything from a "punk rocker" to "a box of Crayola crayons." She then proceeded to outline her "three reasons why Halloween sucks."

The first reason she listed was that Halloween was "people's excuse to dress up and be, like, kooky weird awful." The second reason: candy. "I can't eat sugar," Ross said, explaining that sugar makes her feel like she's "having an anxiety attack." Ross also shared her view that "nobody likes to be scared, frightened — like, boo! What, why?" In fact, she revealed, "That's how I came out ... I just remembered that. My dad said 'Boo!' to my mom and her water broke!"

Despite her hatred for Halloween, Ross has still been known to costume up for the occasional party — like the time she attended Gabrielle Union's 2019 Halloween bash as one of several guests dressed up like Snoop Dogg (via Instagram).

Mom Diana Ross gave her the travel bug

One of Tracee Ellis Ross' favorite ways to spend free time is to travel, and she admits this is yet another trait that she inherited from mom Diana Ross. Accompanying her mother as she performed all over the world, Ross told Condé Nast Traveler, allowed her to become "really comfortable moving about the world." Travel, she explained, is "empowering, and has afforded me the opportunity to connect with other human beings, to see how we are all so much alike, to learn about different cultures and traditions." She added that being able to travel has also helped her have more of an understanding of "what it is to be a human" and provided her life "a richness" that she appreciates.

As a single woman, Ross has become adept at the art of traveling solo, something she's loved since she was a teenager attending boarding school in Switzerland. Flying back and forth from her home in Los Angeles, she told Brit + Co., shaped her as a traveler. "I think that was a big growth opportunity for me as I was coming of age and learning how to be on my own," Ross said. "I'm very comfortable traveling alone and being my own best friend."

Tracee Ellis Ross has accumulated an impressive net worth

Tracee Ellis Ross has built up a tidy little nest egg for herself, estimated by Celebrity Net Worth to be $16 million. A healthy chunk of that, noted the site, is due to her years on ABC sitcom "Black-ish," for which she was paid $200,000 per episode.

As to how she spends that fortune, Ross has admitted to a fondness for shopping. Despite her love for that pastime, she told InStyle that she's always on the lookout for bargains. "Spending smart is part of my motto in life," she explained. "I believe that you can feel extraordinary in your life without spending tons of money. I'm a really strong advocate for living within your means and not trying to keep up with the Joneses, because then you don't have debt." In fact, she revealed, she'd come to learn that "just because I want something, it doesn't mean I should have it."

It was mom Diana Ross who set her on a solid financial path. "When I was young, my mom told me, 'You can spend a lot of money on your clothes, on your things — if you take care of them.' And I have lived by that," she said.