There are no words to fully describe the excitement and awe of being in the presence of a legend. Regardless if they are standing next to you or far away on stage, it is always a feel-good experience. That unexplainable emotion is what I felt while attending a Diana Ross Concert.
Diana Ross performed at the ACL Live Moody Theater in downtown Austin, Texas on Wednesday. This was my first time at this venue and I think it was a perfect fit for an intimate evening with a true diva. The venue is about 8 stories tall with an outdoor staircase. Due to its location, it provides a lovely view of downtown Austin’s night lights. As you enter the lobby for the balcony seating, there is a photo gallery display along the walls of various artists, including Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Mick Jagger, and Johnny Cash, in the 1960s. Some are in color and others are in black and white. My seat was up on the balcony and I felt as close and happy as those on the floor near the stage. The acoustics were wonderful and the friendly audience added to the overall experience.
Opening with “I’m Coming Out,” Diana Ross graced the stage in a sparkling red gown, her signature diva hair style, and a large generous grin. In unison the audience stood up, cheered, and continued to sing along. Diana elegantly conducted her band and transitioned from one song to another while engaging with the audience. After she finished singing “More Today Than Yesterday,” she stopped the band and asked “Do I really need to sing to all of these lighted signs for Whiskey and Beer? It’s distracting. Can we turn them off?” The audience cheered while she continued, “Is anybody sober in here?” “No,” yelled the audience. The lights at the two bars on the ground floor were turned off and Diana continued the show.
From retro pop to soulful ballads to disco hits, Diana and her band kept the house rocking. She wore four gorgeous outfits during the show – the red gown for the opening, a white gown for the second part, an orange gown for the third and slower part, a silver gown for the choir part, and a black gown for the ending – all dripping in sparkles and feathers. She explained she was not wearing her usual heels because she had hurt her ankle a few months ago and did not want to lose her balance. “You are still the greatest diva,” someone in the audience responded.
Towards the end of the show, a guest choir performed a song called “Smile.” It had a go-go style feel. After they finished the song, Diana introduced the conductor for the choir, who is the same woman who conducted the youth choir with Diana for the Christmas Special in Washington, DC last month. She further explained that the choir on stage was put together that morning and had done so well that she is going to keep them for the rest of the show. They then performed “Ain’t No Mountain High,” “I Will Survive,” and “Reach Out And Touch.” During “I Will Survive,” Diana shared the microphone with a few audience members to sing along and to a few choir members to show off their voices.
For the encore, Diana, her band, and the choir returned to perform “Reach Out And Touch.” I was glad to see that this song still has a touching effect. The entire audience was standing, holding hands, and singing along.
For those who might not know, Diana Ross is an American music artist and actress. She rose to fame as the founding member and leading singer of the Motown group The Supremes during the 1960s. They were America’s most commercially successful vocal group and among the top 5 Rock / Pop / Soul acts of the decade. At the peak of their success they rivaled The Beatles in worldwide popularity and their legacy paved the way for future African-American R&B and soul musicians to find mainstream success. The Supremes’ story showcases Motowns full-package strategy in producing music that has been described by some to be similar to factory manufacturing. Motown Records had a department to cover every aspect of their artists – music production, the “Motown Sound” signature, and artist development. Due to this structure, the Supremes became the first black female performers in the rock era to embrace a more feminine image. Berry Gordy, CEO & founder of Motown, wanted all of his performers to be equally appealing to black and white audiences and sought to erase the image of black performers as being unrefined or lacking class. As a result, the Supremes became one of the first black musical acts to achieve complete and sustained crossover success. Back in the 1950s, black rock and roll musicians saw many of their original hit tunes covered by white musicians that achieved more fame and sales success then the original. The Supremes counteracted that trend. With three group members marketed as individual personalities, which was a first in the music industry at that time, and Diana Ross’s pop-friendly voice, the Supremes broke down racial barriers with rock and roll songs fused with R&B style. The story of their career has been adapted by many fictional works, such as the movie “Sparkle” and the play and later movie “Dreamgirls.”
Diana Ross began her solo career in 1970 and expanded her ventures to film and broadway. In 1972 she played Billie Holiday in “Lady Sings The Blues,” one of my favorite films, and was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award and won a Golden Globe Award. This marked the first time an African-American woman achieved such an honor. To prepare for the film, Diana Ross talked with many of Billie Holiday’s acquaintances and listened to her recordings to get into character. She also talked with doctors at drug clinics to do research on the drug addict aspect of the character. Later in 1975 she starred in “Mahogany” as an aspiring fashion designer who turns into a runway model. (Not many people know that Diana Ross initially wanted to be a fashion designer and studied design, pattern-making, and seamstress skills while attending Cass Technical High School, a four-year college preparatory school in downtown Detroit.) There were a few hiccups in the production process, which lead to some tension between Berry Gordy, the executive producer of the film, and Diana Ross. Nevertheless, the film performed well at the box office and the them song, “Do You Know Where Your Going To,” sung by Diana Ross, was a #1 hit. Of course I cannot discuss Diana Ross film career without mentioning my first introduction to her – The Wiz. In 1977 she played Dorothy in the film adaptation of the Broadway play “The Wiz.” According to the industry and sale revenue, it was a flop. However, it is a treasured childhood memory for me and many others. She returned to acting in the 1990s starring in two TV films – “Out of Darkness” in 1993 and “Double Platinum” in 1999.
In 1976, Billboard Magazine named her “The Female Entertainer of The Century.” The Guinness Book of World Records in 1993 declared Diana Ross the most successful female music artist in history due to her success in the US and the UK for having more hits than any female artist with a career spanning total of 70 hit singles. Some of her hits included “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Touch Me In The Morning,” “You Are Everything” with Marvin Gaye, “I’m Coming Out,” and “Love Hangover.”
Like I said before, experiencing a legend is nothing short but remarkable. Diana Ross is such an inspiration. I think the definition of a diva should include her photograph describing her talent, work ethic, elegance, and generosity.
Thank you Diana Ross. I love you.
* Clip from fellow audience member
Also had to share this clip. I loved the acting and dancing collaborations artists did in the 1970s. It showcased how multi-talented everyone was in those days.