By Ann-Marie Adams, Ph.D.
If they could, many people would want the legendary Diana Ross to be frozen in time, preferable in the 1970s when her waif-like figure, high cheek bones and big, brown eyes captivated the world as she crooned softly with songs that evoke positive imagery: I’m Coming Out; A’int No Mountain High Enough and Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand.
But that’s for deluded individuals who have failed to simply be in awe and appreciate the immeasurable contribution Ms. Ross, as she is affectionately called, has given the world for more than 50 years.
Five decades of performing on the global stage, Ms. Ross’s melodic voice has given the world 18 hit songs on the Billboard 100—topping the number of hit songs by Elvis—since she was first catapulted to fame in 1963. Overall, she has had 28 number one records and 70 best-selling singles. And she has done it with class, compassion and commitment to her fans.
She did it again on Tuesday at the Hartford Bushnell Theater in a sold-out concert that lasted for an hour and 20 minutes, delivering a classy performance.
Just being in the packed theater was exciting. The international star many have seen in memorable movies like Lady Sings the Blues, Mahogony and The Wiz was about to be on stage live as the white curtains revealed crest moons and red stars in the backdrop. Her most ardent fans, many of whom have traveled around the country to watch at least 10 of her shows, had secured front row seats.
Before she entered the stage in a sequined, floor-length gown applique with silver studs, we heard her familiar soprano voice: ‘I’m coming!”
The audience rose to its feet and welcomed Ms. Ross to the stage. She kept the tempo mellow throughout most of the evening, though, with hits like, My World is Empty Without You, Stop in the Name of Love and Love Child –only briefly interjecting contemporary R & B tempo with a few songs, so people could groove to the beat.
Toward the end of the third set, she sang the theme song from her hit movie: Mahagony: Do you know where you’re going to?/Do you like the things that life is showing you?/Where are you going to?/ Do you know?
And she ended the evening with Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand with almost everyone in the audience standing and waving hands in the air like cornstalks bending to and fro in the wind. Many succumbed to the feeling of pure awesomeness in the theater.
Sean Lyons of Simsbury displayed unbridled joy throughout the performance. Lyons, who started a Facebook campaign to bring Ms. Ross to Simsbury, learned that promoters already had her on schedule to perform at the Bushnell. He and other fans organized a talk at the Simsbury Library, where they shared close or near encounters with Ms. Ross.
Appreciative of her fans, Ms. Ross offered the mike to Lyons so he could sing a few bars of the closing song.
He was exhilarated.
“I’ve been preparing for that moment all of my life,” he said beaming as he made his way outside and into the capital city. Lyons is a student at the University of Hartford.
Most fans in that audience shared a lifetime of memories listening to Ms. Ross, now 69 and still stunning. And she is still the boss, as she produces and makes the final decision on her shows.
During her years as a superstar, she has had unflattering coverage in the press, mainly branding her as a “diva.” In retrospect that word should be examined and be contextualized. It is possible that Ms. Ross, to many white writers in Jim Crow America, was branded a “diva” because in that era a black female superstar was an anamoly. The glamorous image of a dark-skinned black woman as a sex symbol was an affront on white sensibilities. Many believed then—and still do today—that black women should not be “playing the lady” or be cared and catered to. There’s more history to this fact of American life, which has yet to be articulated extensively in public discourses. However, we won’t address that subject in this column. But for now, know that the word “diva” might very well be the Jim Crow era code word for a contemporary corollary phrase: “angry” black woman.
And it is with that knowledge, this writer will say that it’s time to give Ms. Ross her proper credit on a grand scale. Her more than 50 years of entertaining the world was distilled in one exquisite evening last night at the Hartford Bushnell Theater.
And her performance left the audience, including this writer, wanting more.
Dr. Ann-Marie Adams the founder and editor of The Hartford Guardian. Follow her on Twitter: @annmarieadams.