Singer extraordinaire Diana Ross is a musical legend and she proved it last night in a concert at The Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall. Presenting a showcase full of golden oldies as well as some classic standards and some newly-chosen material, Ross’ silvery, seductive, and sassy tones permeated each and every number that she sang.
Dazzling in several stunning outfits, Ms. Ross was accompanied by the exquisite instrumentals of the Washington National Symphony Orchestra, a twenty-five person choir, and the immediacy of her own back-up combo which consisted of three back-up singers, two guitarists, a drummer, a marvelous keyboard musician, and an expert sax player.
Kudos to National Symphony Orchestra Music Director Christoph Eschenbach and the wonderful conductor for this Concert, Emil de Cou.
The ethereal and silky sheen of Ms. Ross’ voice flowed beautifully in all registers—-and her gorgeous tones became a musical instrument itself. Having been performing for decades in sold-out concerts, films, and to much international acclaim and numerous honors as well (she recently received the Presidential Medal of Freedom), Ms. Ross is a distinctive musical icon who has influenced generations of new singers such as Janet Jackson and Taylor Swift.
Nostalgia brings waves of remembrance as I thought back to the days of Diana Ross and the Supremes but time marches on and she has embraced film stardom (Lady Sings the Blues, The Wiz, etc.) and many countless recordings —many of her past hits (many of which became number one on the charts) were presented with confidence, showmanship and verve to an almost –frenetic fan base.
As much of the concert was presented in an almost interactive, jubilant and “party” atmosphere —with encouragement of clapping and singing along with the refrains of particular standards, there were also many more introspective moments with Ms. Ross singing emotive and heartrending torch songs and dramatic solos. Many top-notch jazz-tinged and up-tempo musical arrangements were presented during the interludes while Ms. Ross changed into another knockout of an outfit.
Ms. Ross’ voice is a musical wonder and the years have not changed her effortless skill at a loquacious, supple, and naturally emotive singing style that can cover the emotion of soul, the syncopation and beat of pop, the elongated pauses and timing of ballads, the audacious sheen of theatrical songs as well as some superb jazz-edged songs.
Ms. Ross’ vocal instrument is as fine and vocally dexterous and fluid as ever with, perhaps, bits of a more deeper and robust register at times. Her vocal instrument is a natural wonder and I often wish that she had the time to pursue the world of Jazz a bit more as her voice can handle any genre of song whatsoever. (I mean this as the ultimate compliment to Ms. Ross’ vocal gifts).
After a stunning overture, Ross sang an enthralling cover of “I’m Coming Out” that was very up-tempo in mood and ebullience —this joyful song set the tone for much of the concert.
Ross hit crescendo after crescendo as she repeated the refrain from the hit song “More Today than Yesterday” to wild applause.
The monster hit “You Can’t Hurry Love” was delivered with supreme (pun intended!) skill and syncopated timing that made Ms. Ross the diamond of the Motown era’s hit-making singing group—Diana Ross and the Supremes. Ross’ trademark elongated and thrusting arm movements were on full display here and added so much to the physical authority of this song.
Ross’ version of her meditative and moving hit “Touch Me in the Morning” was a major highlight of a concert filled with highlights. An interesting musical arrangement was filled with a subtly Latin-infused Bossa Nova beat in the background with keyboard and guitar standing out.
“It’s My Turn” (from the film of the same name) fit Ms. Ross’ persona like a glove in both musical composition as well as in content. This is one of the ultimate “survivor” songs as she sang of triumph amidst despair in an affirmative fashion. Ms. Ross’ inflection and sense of timing was faultless.
A change of musical pace ensued as Ms. Ross launched into a full-throttle rendition of the exciting song “Why do Fools Fall in Love?” . The breezy, bouncy, and euphoric tone of this song fit Ross’s voice to a tee. The repeated refrain “Tell me Why?” was repeated over and over to create an exciting motif. The entire song was sung with exuberant joy and brio. A very innovative and enticing sax solo was showcased as Ms. Ross exited very briefly for another impending and visually striking glamorous outfit change.
The sultry, seductive, and beautifully elongated hit song “Love Hangover” was performed with by Ross with all the requisite post-coital sensuality this song requires. The repeated phrase “I have the sweetest hangover”— conveyed the unabashed sensuality of this song – abetted by the intimate musical back up of Ross’s combo and the National Symphony Orchestra. My mind kept reeling back to how this song permeated the film Looking for Mr. Goodbar.
The very theatrical and famous hit “Ease on Down the Road” from the film The Wiz (which starred Ms. Ross) was performed with a sense of communal merriment and festivity. The infectious modulating tones of Ms. Ross’ voice were embellished even further by the energetic, harmonic, and clapping chorus of three wonderful back up singers as a joyful musical interlude ensued.
A trilogy of three classic songs from Ross’ superb film Lady Sings the Blues were delivered with earthy and honest emotion –filled passion. Ross is so well-known for her stellar understanding of the raw emotion that emanated from her interpretation of the beloved singer Billie Holiday.
Ross sang “The Man I Love,” “Good Morning Heartache,” and “Don’t Explain” with an unerring understanding of pain and heartbreak. “Good Morning Heartache” was sung with an air of utter resignation and raw hurt until the final words “Sit Down!” which were delivered with an appropriate and complete transformation of attitude by Ms. Ross.
“Don’t Explain” was performed by Diana Ross as the ultimate lover’s very knowing understanding of the complexities of love and the human heart’s contradictions.
Ms. Ross wrapped up this outstanding concert with resoundingly affirmative and heartfelt renditions of her classic hits “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand.” Ross’ fan base received these two upbeat songs with wild acclamation and sustained applause –replete with dancing in the aisles.
It is easy to understand why Diana Ross has such an admiring fan base; as this dynamic concert proved, Diana Ross’ acclaim is more than justified for she is a distinctive and hugely talented musical legend.
Running Time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.
Diana Ross: ALL the Best of Times—with the National Symphony Orchestra performs December 1-3, 2016, at The Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall – 2700 F Street, NW in Washington, DC. For tickets call (202) 467-4600/(800) 515-2171, or purchase them online.