*One thing you’ve got to admit right off the top, anyone who can fill the Hollywood Bowl to capacity with very little advertising has got to be one bad mutha-fuh-ya. I mean, that’s 17,500 seats. Who does that?
Hell, Webster’s probably created the word LEGEND around Diana Ross. Nobody comes close to her. Still. She is truly a National Treasure.
Even at 72-years old.
This writer had only witnessed the icon up close twice, including this performance. The first time was 12 years ago, in November of 2004, when she appeared for another two night engagement at the historic Pantages theatre in Hollywood. I remember that night vividly. I was seated one-level above the stage to her immediate right. Great seats! The confidence of a “true diva” filled the room; you could easily get a mild case of whiplash from the quickness of her many costume changes; and practically count every single one of her pretty white teeth — which seemed to gleam right along with the twinkle in her eye as she flirted with us, recalled memories with us, and reached out to touch us.
One couldn’t help notice how personable she was; speaking to us as if we were intimate friends sitting on the couch in her living room.
Her daughter, Tracee Ellis Ross, came onstage to a warm welcome, to bring her mother on. Before introducing her mom, Ellis Ross told us, in a sly manner, “Yesterday I was nominated for an Emmy. I work on a show called Black-ish.” She then told us how her mother is, “kind of a legend.”
“Ladies and gentlemen. Diana Ross.”
A lot can happen over a twelve year period.
And many of life’s trappings are inescapable; even more so for entertainers and the stuff they didn’t sign up for: peering eyes into their personal lives. Even Ross, who has always managed to maintain a high level of privacy when offstage, has had her share of sneak peeks captured by intrusive cameras and public domain content.
You’ll have to do your own research for that.
But even the slightest dim from a STAR that always shined SO bright is immediately recognizable. Oh don’t get me wrong: still present at this concert was the dramatic entrance — where she, her flowing black hair and red sequined dress with feathers sat on a swing that was lowered from above the stage as she belted out her signature song “I’m Coming Out.” Still present were the beautiful costumes (though she made only four changes compared to the numerous costumes adorned in that Pantages show).
And she is STILL absolutely lovely by any standard…whether she was wearing that red gown with feathered sequined overlay…the brilliant gold gown with layered purple and gold overlay …the aqua-blue shoulder-bearing gown with ALL THAT…and then there was the black. Whew!
Sometimes less can be more.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t note the changes apparent in “that voice” which we have come to know so very well. And it did take a while for the personable Diana to show up. She came on stage and did her duty — going from song to song, with little to no chatter in between…at first. She and her eight-piece band and three background singers performed many of her greatest hits including The Supremes’ My World is Empty Without You, Stop in the Name of Love, Baby Love, Come See About Me, You Can’t Hurry Love, a Latin-inspired instrumental on Love Child; along with her solo hits — the aforementioned I’m Coming Out, The Boss, Upside Down, Touch Me in the Morning, and Love Hangover.
Ross entertained us with Ease on Down the Road, and we smiled and wiped away a tear at the fond memory of her working with the late Michael Jackson in the 1978 film, “The Wiz.”
She even performed Don’t Explain (with Michael Sechrest‘s wonderful guitar and a violin solo from a female musician I can’t identify!) from the film that won Ross an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in 1973: “Lady Sings the Blues” for her performance as Billie Holiday. Ross asked, “Any jazz lover’s out there?” and we heard a recognizable line from the film come over the speaker saying, “Miss Holiday. Are you Billie Holiday?” in that flat voice that evoked images of a stoned Billie Holiday being confronted by police.
And it did not escape us that she dedicated another song from the film, Good Morning Heartache, to her former mentor (and father to one of her children), Berry Gordy.
What I wouldn’t give to hear why she chose THAT song, to dedicate to HIM.
And of course no Diana Ross concert would be complete without Reach Out and Touch (by this time she had warmed up — as we see in the photo directly below, and was even flirting with those in the front rows).
The Boss even entertained us with a few songs from other artists, such as Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers‘ Why Do Fools Fall in Love, and Gloria Gaynor‘s I Will Survive (with a deserving shout-out for that spin on the Aye, Yai…Yai which absolutely nailed it, Ms. Ross. I loved that!)
Ms. Ross sure does know how to pick ’em when it comes to her opening act. Naturally 7, a seven-man group of musicians who use no other instruments than their mouths to create some of the most amazing sounds. With a request from the announcer to stand as the group took the stage, they blew us away with their own rendition of the National Anthem. Naturally 7 first hit the public eye in 1999, and the group, which started out with brothers Roger Anthony Thomas and Warren Andrew Thomas invited five other members which currently consist of Garfield Rolando Buckley, Roderick Lowell Eldridge, Dwight Martindale Stewart, and newcomers Lee Ricardo Cort (Ricky Cort) and Kelvin “Kelz” Mitchell. They describe their unique a cappella sound as ‘Vocal Play.’
Included in their set, where they built a wall of music with their voices was Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight where they even added a nice hip-hop flavor; and a rendition of the George Harrison classic, While My Guitar Gently Weeps (starring Ricky Cort’s badass guitar solo…BY MOUTH!)
Diana Ross fans showed up and showed out…and many have the Tee-shirts to prove it! We savored every second of this legend’s performance as we realize, all too well by now, how fortunate we are to still have her in our midst.
DeBorah B. Pryor has worked as a writer for more than 30 years, and started her career interviewing R&B legends backstage at the Apollo Theater. Today she is a Senior Editor at EURweb and Managing Editor at the pubs sister site, EURThisNthat. Previously, she was West Coast Editor for the music trade publication Black Radio Exclusive (BRE). In the past, she worked in public relations at New York’s Metropolitan Opera and was once personal assistant to music legend, Sly Stone.