The untold truth of Tracee Ellis Ross

Whether it's been through her various roles in comedies like Girlfriends and Black-ish, through appearances and interviews on TV talk shows, or through belting her heart out in Carpool Karaoke, no doubt at some point in your life Tracee Ellis Ross has had you in stitches. Like real, belly-aching stitches. Because not only is the 45-year-old American TV star absolutely hilarious, but she's got the kind of light, infectious laugh that you can't help but join in with.

Yet, she is so much more than her comedic TV persona. This woman has lead an eventful, star-studded life that's as likely to fill you with awe as it will with envy. Here are 10 things you might not know about Tracee Ellis Ross.

Her mom is music legend, Diana Ross

When you consider Ross' fiery personality, it shouldn't come as a massive surprise that she was born and raised by one of the most formidable women to have graced this planet — Diana Ross. Yes, her mother is a literal superstar, one who simmers with a passion that she clearly passed down to her daughter.

Yet according to Ross herself, Diana Ross is a world away from the Supreme diva we all know. In a conversation with Glamour for their February 2018 cover story, Ross spoke of her mom's down-to-earth nature, her "extraordinary ability to love" and of how surrounding herself with those nearest and dearest is always the most important thing. Speaking of her mother collecting a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012, Ross said:

"The most important thing to my mom was to have her entire family onstage with her. My mom had my nieces and ­nephews — her grandchildren — dancing around her. Whenever we go see her show, that's what happens. That's the way I grew up, dancing on-stage while my mom was singing. Just like walking on the stage and tapping her on the butt, and like, 'Mom, Mom.' My mom holds her family and a career and nourishes both things."

She's Ashlee Simpson's sister-in-law

Moving in similar circles clearly has its benefits when it comes to creating the ultimate celebrity family dream team. Not only is Ross' mom a global superstar, but her sister-in-law is none other than Ashlee Simpson! The American singer-songwriter-cum-actress married Ross' brother, Evan Ross — who'll you'll no doubt recognize from his acting roles in The Hunger Games, 90210 and ABC's Wicked Cityback in 2014, and the gang have been tight ever since.

If you're one of Ross' 4 million followers on Instagram, no doubt you've already clocked the family snaps that've been making us yearn to be part of the clan. But if not, you probably want to sort that out pronto — the entire family is fantastic. Plus, maybe you'll nab a Jessica 'is-this-chicken-or-tuna' Simpson appearance on there too, if you're lucky.

She started out as a model and fashion editor

No doubt you've grown familiar with Ross over the years thanks to her slammin' performances in comedy series Girlfriends, as the neurotic Joan Clayton, and as lovable Dr. Rainbow Johnson in the brilliant Black-ish. However, did you know that she kick-started her career in fashion? Well she did — with a little help from mom, Diana Ross. 

Per an in-depth report and interview with Ross courtesy of Vogue in 2015, the story goes as follows: Diana Ross had been asked to walk for French fashion designer Theirry Mulger's (now legendary) "Butterfly" show, and her one condition for taking part was if her daughter would be allowed to walk with her. So onto the catwalk Ross went — on the day of her 18th birthday, no less — strutting alongside the likes of Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington. Pretty cool for a first foray, right?

From then she went on to sit for renowned fashion photographers like Mary Ellen Mark, Peter Lindbergh and Herb Rints, and bagged coveted positions behind the scenes as fashion editor for Mirabella and New York. And while she's no longer directly working in the fashion industry, you only have to peek at her various appearances on the red carpet to twig that this is a lady with a serious sense of style.

Spike Lee's Malcolm X is the reason she pursued a career in film (even though she wasn't in it)

So what spawned the jump from fashion to film? Well, despite walking alongside the biggest supermodels of the '90s, Ross' heart had always been in performance. While studying at Brown University, she auditioned for her first role, which happened to be in a little movie you might have heard of: Spike Lee's Malcolm X. Although she didn't get the role, Ross told Backstage magazine in 2016 that the casting director called her back in and said: "You have really good instincts. Do you want to be an actor?"

She said that this was the first time she'd ever felt that she "was doing something OK," that she had "some sort of good instinct about something." It was this audition feedback that prompted her to change her major to theater, from which she graduated in 1994. And the rest, as they say, is history.

She was the first African-American actress in over three decades to win a Best Actress Golden Globe

In January 2017, Ross scooped up a Golden Globe award for Best Performance by an Actress for her portrayal of Dr. Rainbow Johnson in ABC's Black-ish. While this is a huge career landmark in itself, it was made all the more pivotal by the fact that she became the first woman of color in 35 years to be granted the honor since Debbie Allen won in 1983. Also, Ross won this award at 44 years old, 44 years after her mom scooped up her Golden Globe in 1973 for New Star of the Year.  

Ross spoke to Glamour in February 2018 about her win, stating that "the larger meaning" was the most impactful thing. "When another woman or another woman of color has a win… I feel like it's a ceiling breaking open. It's like something becomes more possible."

Ross continues to modestly hail this moment as the biggest surprise of her career, keeping the award in a spot she's able to gaze upon every day — in her kitchen!

She was photographed and painted by Andy Warhol

If you were still under some illusion that this woman's life hasn't constantly been attached to fame, fortune and glamor, take a look at the snapshot above. That's Ross in her early teenage years as the star of a polaroid taken by none other than pop art king, Andy Warhol, just years before he passed away in 1987. And not only that, according to an interview with The Wrap in 2014, it would seem that Warhol painted her, too!

This entire interaction came about before mom Diana Ross commissioned Warhol to design the cover for her 1982 album, Silk Electric. On October 2, 1981, after taking the portraits, Warhol wrote in his diary:

"Diana Ross came at 3:00 and she loved all the portraits, she said, 'Wrap them up,' and they all fit in the limousine, and she had a check at Bob's place by 5:00. And she wants me to do the cover for her next album."

Certainly puts our #TBT pics to shame!

She Touch(ed) The Sky in a Kanye West music video

Have you ever sat down, watched Kanye West's video for his 2009 hit "Touch The Sky" and wondered, who is that feisty chick screaming "WHAT ABOUT ALL A DIS, WHAT ABOUT DAT A**" in his face while sporting more bling than you could shake a Mr T at? Yeah? Well, that was Ross. Standing next to Nia Long (a.k.a Will Smith's girlfriend in Fresh Prince of Bel Air), she ripped Kanye's video persona a new one for ditching her BFF for a white girl (who just so happened to be Pamela Anderson), and — as you would expect — brought the sass in a big way.

She went to school in Switzerland and can speak conversational French

As you would expect from the daughter of a global superstar, Ross' upbringing was quite international. Though she was born in L.A., she tells Vogue that her formative years were split between New York, Paris and Switzerland. While in Switzerland she honed a "very chic" lifestyle attending the Institut Le Rosey, a prestigious boarding school that splits its campus between a stunning manorial estate and ski resort chalets. They went skiing for gym class.

According to the same Vogue interview, it was during her time in Switzerland that she learned to speak conversational French, too, for although the school was taught in English, any interactions in the local town were conducted in French. 

She's actually a doctor!

No, we're not talking about her role in Black-ish. Ross is actually a doctor! Well, kind of. In 2015, she received an honorary doctorate degree from her alma mater, Brown University. Describing herself as "honored and thrilled" to be tipped with such an accolade, on her personal blog — which you should all follow, though it's not updated so often — Ross notes that she was the only woman of color to have been awarded that year.

She was next to three other powerful women, though — Louise Lamphere, a "founding mother" of feminist anthropology, Susan Solomon, one of the first scientists to discover and address the hole in the ozone layer, and Kathryn D. Sullivan, the first American female astronaut to walk in space — so we'd say she was in good company, wouldn't you?

She continued to write:

"In my degree it says I was honored because of my 'grace, talent and strong sense of self….work that combines detailed knowledge of human nature with boldness…a passion for facilitating self-expression and broadening the definition of what is beautiful…dedication to helping others particularly teenage girls, find their inner strength, confidence and pathways to satisfaction…creating common ground with women of all backgrounds… And a continued desire to push the boundaries of imagination.'"

She has fantastic advice for getting through bad days

Now, before you think there's nothing this model-cum-fashion-editor-cum-actress-cum-French-speaking-doctor can't do, rest easy knowing that, like all us mere mortals, she has her fill of "crappy" days, too. Yet, rather than drowning in self-pity, Ross told Glamour in its February 2018 cover story that she has equipped herself with a number of tools that aid a healthier, more positive outlook. 

Her primary advice is to acknowledge the bad feelings. Embrace them and "make friends" with them. Learn "the difference between choice-ful solitude and lonely." And tell people close to you how you are — don't bottle it up. She says: "[I find comfort in] being able to name it, to say I'm feeling lonely. Then to have a tribe of people I feel safe enough with to share: This is how I feel."

Additionally, find simple things that help you clear your head. She particularly enjoys meditation and journaling, but it could be just walking the dog. Ross sees these things as belonging to her "toolbox" of support, and draws upon them whenever she feels low. Little movements towards feeling better — something we can all do a little more of.