Empress of Pop Sings City Center
BY DAVID NOH | Diana Ross — diva of divas, from a day when the real thing existed — is coming to town! On April 24 – 29, she will be in residence at City Center for a series of concerts that will give both old and new fans a chance to revel in all of her big-haired, Mackie-sequinned, Motown-Billie Holiday-“Mahogany”- “Touch Me in the Morning” fabulousness.
A lifetime fan of hers — hello, I’m gay! — I saw her first in my living room in Honolulu on TV in black and white on “Shindig,” I believe. And, boy, did she stand out from the other two Supremes, with her enormous eyes, wraith-like, hunched-shoulders posture, and fluent, oh-so sexy voice, belting out “Baby Love.”
“Who’s that pretty Hawaiian girl?” my eternal cut-up of a Dad commented.
Hit after hit followed, and then came “Lady Sings the Blues,” which also really introduced me to Billie Holiday — though their voices couldn’t have been more dissimilar. I finally saw her live in a surprisingly intimate venue, the showroom of Chicago’s Palmer House. She was hugely pregnant and wore a be-plumed gown that made her look like Big Bird, she said. I was present at both of her legendary Central Park concerts, and will never forget the look in her eyes, as, immediately after her entrance in a resplendent Issey Miyake multi-hued fringe coat, a blanket of thick black storm clouds rolled toward her, ruining a perfectly sunny day and her first gig in the park.
Ross turned 73 last month, and I truly hope the lady owns it, because if that’s what a septuagenarian looks like, I say bring it.
DAVID NOH: Your voice is a miracle. Do you do anything to care for it, vocalize or a coach, or does it just come naturally?
DIANA ROSS: That is so sweet of you. It’s a wonderful compliment. I do think, vocally, my voice has my heart in it. I do try to care for my vocal cords gently. I like tea and local honey.
DN: Your daughters are enjoying such splendid success. I’ve already interviewed Rhonda [Ross Kendrick] about her singing career. And Tracee [Ellis Ross] is genius on “Blackish.” How do you feel about them and about all your children’s talent?
DR: I have a huge smile on my face all the time. I love them dearly, and they know it.
DN: Although largely put down, “The Wiz” has really come to be appreciated for all the wonderful things in it — your passionate, funky interpretation of the songs, Quincy Jones’ elegant arrangements, Michael Jackson, Lena Horne, the glamorous High 1970s look of the Oz scenes set in the World Trade Center. How do you feel about it today?
DR: So many “Endless Memories” and so much beauty and talent. It may be time to write another book.
DN: You are the fashion icon for all time. We all loved “Mahogany,” and especially your designs.
DR: I always keep creating. I love designing my own costumes. I love glamorous gowns on stage.
DN: Is there an archive of all your outfits somewhere on the planet and if so how is it maintained?
DR: My daughter Tracee will not let me give anything away, so I have pretty much kept everything. I have of all of my stage costumes and some very special items that I’ve kept over the years in storage. And she has a lot of them, too. We both love clothes and designing. Evan [her son by Arne Naess, her second husband] and Ashlee [Simpson, Evan’s wife] love great style, too.
Each of my children has their own personality and their own personal style. All different, unique, and special.
DN: What is a typical day like for Diana Ross? The fantasy of course is you wake up in a perfumed bed of roses, with champagne and caviar for breakfast — all of it impossibly glamorous and fab.
DR: Yes, of course, yes! I found this body pillow that I can hug all night long. Especially when sleeping alone. [Laughs.] Caviar is not something you have all the time, only when it’s free. [Laughs.] I love caviar.
In the morning, I get up very early before the sunrise. I drink a full bottle of water with lemon and then have my coffee. One scoop of caffeine, that’s all. For a light breakfast, hard-boiled eggs and I can love me some bacon, but I don’t have bacon all the time! But, secretly, I love it. If I’m rushing around, I’ll have a protein shake.
Then, of course, I get glamorous. I take two hours to put on my face and hair before going out into the public. [Really laughs.] That’s a big lie! I love comfort at this time in my life. No spiked heels for me.
DN: Who was/ is the great love of your life?
DR: All my husbands? I love my family, all of them. I love my friends, all of them. I love all of my associates, musicians, and people that I work with. I love you. I am a “Love Child,” for sure.
DN: You have an amazing family and friends and fans, but, as I have heard other stars say, does it ever get lonely?
DR: Never! I’m always excited about being in New York City. The energy of New York is amazing. I have so many incredible memories of my time performing here. Central Park. The Apollo. Radio City Music Hall. I love looking out into the audience and seeing your faces and your smiles. Life is wonderful, and I am so very blessed and grateful. I have so much appreciation for my life every day, it’s a gift. I’m happy to be back in New York. Let’s have some fun!
DIANA ROSS | New York City Center, 131 W. 55th St. | Apr. 24-29 | $59.50-$357 at nycitycenter.org