Tonight I had the distinct pleasure of watching the incomparable Diana Ross perform at the Chicago Theater. She’s enjoyed a long and celebrated solo career, but will perhaps be best remembered as one of The Supremes, arguably one of the finest (and most famous) female singing groups in American history. Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard were Motown’s biggest act and sang some of that eras most famous songs, including “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Where Did Our Love Go.”
The Supremes were wonderful, yet Diana Ross was, and still is, sublime.
The show started behind a white curtain through which we could see vivid colors from a screen and the outlines of several people. They turned out to be a large band composed of brass (saxophones, trombone, and trumpet), strings (violins, cellos), two pianos, drum set, guitars, and three backup singers. I was surprised to see such a full stage, but I realized I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting. In addition to occasionally psychedelic displays (Diana Ross went solo in 1970, after all), the video screen showed nearly continuous footage of Ross in her earlier years as a solo act and with The Supremes. In this way, I felt Ross not only gracefully acknowledged her advanced age but gave the younger members of the audience a chance to see candid footage of the performer she used to be.
The diva appeared in a bright, lime green frilly wrap that when shed revealed a shimmering, silver dress that sparkled wonderfully in the stage lights. I didn’t recognize the song she opened with it, and indeed I felt that for much of the show the bands music overpowered her vocals. It didn’t help that I was up in the lower balcony, but that still should not have been as issue.
But when her voice was heard clearly, it was magnificent. The sound can perhaps best be described as mellifluous; sweet and clear with a sort of feathery touch that is distinctively hers. The energy in her vocals was matched by the spirit with which she glided, twirled, and shook on the stage. The woman is sixty-six years old and can still shimmy. Marvelous.
The music was nearly continuous for the next hour, with Ross singing classic hits and some sultry, bluesy tunes that prompted catcalls and shouts from the audience, along with the requisite declarations of love. The well-known pop songs really got the crowd excited and singing and clapping along. And dancing. Oh the dancing (again, she went solo in 1970). There was a group of nine middle-older aged women in the two rows directly in front of me. They were really, really excited to be at the show and had apparently rehearsed dances for “Stop!” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (To Keep Me Away From You).” I was alternately amused and annoyed by them, but had to appreciate their enthusiasm.
Another fun aspect of the show were the multiple outfits Ross changed into. Those changes served as the only breaks in the music aside from the encore. She went from silver–> red–> dazzling blue–>pink–>almost-blinding gold–> light green. Most of the dresses had those fantastic wraps to accompany them. I think they’re a required element of a diva’s attire.
At the end Ross was a gracious performer. She introduced her entire band by name and declared her love for the audience and appreciation of our enthusiasm (she “was watching us as we were watching her”). She even curtsied (and giggled afterward) at the end of one song which charmed me immensely. In short, diva Diana put on one incredible performance.
It’s a show I won’t soon forget.
The Set List (in no particular order, and to the best of my memory):
It’s My House
Stop! In the Name of Love
I’m Coming Out
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
Touch Me in the Morning
Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)
Ease On Down the Road (from “The Wiz”, and originally a duet with Michael Jackson)
Take Me Higher
More Today Than Yesterday
Can’t Hurry Love
I Will Survive
Fine and Mellow
Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)