As a teenager, a virtually unknown Diana Ross performed with the Supremes in pre-civil rights America. The audience was divided by ropes, and whites and blacks each stayed on their side of the rope.
As a woman of 72, fresh from being awarded the President’s Medal of Freedom, Miss Ross showed how much the times have changed with “All the Best,” her concert at the Kennedy Center with the NSO Pops, conducted by Emil de Cou.
The evening began with an overture that touched on all the decades of Ross’s career. Backed by a 25-person choir, Ross emerged with an energized “I’m Coming Out,” followed by “More Today Than Yesterday.” The show only featured one Supremes song — “You Can’t Hurry Love” — but Ross has enough hits of her own to fill an evening. She took the opportunity to sing several songs not often performed live, including “If We Hold On Together,” the theme from The Land Before Time. Her biggest hit in Japan, the rendition was lush and wistful. “Missing You,” meanwhile, written by Lionel Richie about the shocking murder of Marvin Gaye, displayed Ross’s full range of emotion as a singer.
Have you ever wondered how disco would sound with a full symphony? Pretty good, as it turns out. “Love Hangover” felt even more full-bodied once the strings led into the disco breakdown. The Kennedy Center Concert Hall was briefly transformed into a giant dance party with the audience springing to their feet. When the ushers at the Kennedy Center are clapping, swaying and watching the artist and not the audience, you know that the night has gone into territory where adjectives are not quite adequate to explain the experience.
During the encore, Ross took a few minutes to address the crowd and shared her reflections that “Every day, this life we have is a gift,” before launching into one of her better, but lesser known, songs, “The Best Years of My Life.” She referenced “Obama trying to get the medal around my hair” and “my five children” and seemed contemplative, grateful, and perhaps more humble than previous years. It was a rare opportunity to see a performer still at her very best.
Julio Fonseca lives in Washington, D.C. This review is based on the performance of Friday, Dec. 2.
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