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May 26, 2010

Guest blog post: Diana Ross in concert at Strathmore

Diana Ross gave a concert Tuesday night at Strathmore, a relatively intimate space for such a pop icon. I had a great time there -- this was my first live encounter with Ross -- except for the sound system, which confused loudness with effectiveness much of the night (initially, the star's voice disappeared into the mass of sound, and, although you could see five string players sawing away all night in the band, you almost never heard them).

I was impressed with how well Ross has maintained her voice over the decades; most of her singing was as technically solid as it was emotionally alive. And when she had a chance to do some subtle phrasing, especially in a couple of Billie Holiday numbers, the results were remarkably effective. Above all, Ross demonstrated the keen instincts and tireless energy of a true entertainer. She owned that house and everyone in it for 90 action-packed minutes. Cool.

But, hey, don't take my word for it. Here's a guest blog report from one of the world's most devoted Diana Ross fans -- my longtime partner, Robert. This was his fifth Ross concert (the first two were in the days of The Supremes, so that gives him bragging rights for a start), and he was looking awfully happy after this one. I invited him to share his reactions here:

The sold-out crowd at the Music Center at Strathmore last evening was eagerly anticipating pop diva Diana Ross as the lights dimmed and the band began to play. The music was unfamiliar, non-Motown or RCA-era Ross, but the images of vintage Diana Ross and The Supremes albums flashed on a screen behind the band helped to set the mood. When the music led into the first recognizable notes of 1979’s “The Boss,” Miss Ross rose from the back of the stage and the audience rose from their seats (some of them stayed upright for the entire concert, much to the annoyance of folks in the row behind them.)

Diana looked sexy and glamorous -- at least  

20 years younger than her 66 years -– in her first of five Bob Mackie-style gowns she wore during the evening. It was an infectious opening number. "The Boss” was followed by “More Today than Yesterday,” one of two selections she performed from her latest studio album, “I Love You.” It was a lively performance.

Telling the crowd that “tonight is truly about memories,” Miss Ross launched into a grouping of Supremes tunes. Unlike in her 1980s-era concerts, which disposed of a Supremes medley in short order, these songs were sung in their entirety for this concert.

Beginning with "Reflections” (vintage photos and videos flashed on the screen behind her), she continued with “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and “Stop! In the Name of Love.” “Love Child” ended this segment too soon. Hearing her iconic, still strong and clear voice singing these much-loved songs united the racially diverse crowd in a true love-fest.

The disco anthem “Love Hangover” led into more of Miss Ross’ solo hits. There was a new gown for “I’m Coming Out,” “Upside Down,” “It’s My House,” “Ease On Down the Road” and “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”

Another change of costume and another change of mood led into a jazz-blues segment, with “Fine and Mellow” and “Don’t Explain,” two Billie Holiday songs Diana originally performed in “Lady Sings the Blues.” (It’s worth remembering that Diana was nominated for an Academy Award for that film role.) Her heartfelt interpretations of these songs highlighted her versatility as a songstress. The other song from her latest album, a cover of Dusty Springfield’s “The Look of Love,” with a hot saxophone solo adding to the impact of the number, was well received, as were “Endless Love” and "Touch Me in the Morning." 

Diana was warm and personable throughout the evening, waving and talking to the crowd, inviting a fan on stage to dance and thanking everyone for being there. She also personally introduced every member of her band by name – and it’s quite a sizable ensemble.

The last segment began with a medley of “I Will Survive” and “Take Me Higher,” two of her hits after her return to Motown. During “Reach Out and Touch,” her first single after leaving the Supremes, Diana did reach out and shake the hands of those lucky fans in the first row. The Theme from “Mahogany” (“Do You Know Where You’re Going To?”) led into “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

The almost 90 minute concert came to a close with a brief tribute to Michael Jackson; a picture of the late singer and Diana was shown on the screen. Although this was touching, this segment should have been a bit earlier so that “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” could have ended the show in a more rousing fashion.

In secure, sweet voice and looking fabulous, Miss Ross proved again that she remains a true superstar. Our music world would be empty without her.

-- Robert Leininger


Posted by Tim Smith at 11:13 AM | | Comments (7)


Diana is the best. I have my tickets to see her and in two weeks , she will arrive in Saratoga to do her thing.

I saw Miss Ross last week in Red Bank and in New York. She was nothing short of dazzling! I have seen Diana perform countless times and this tour is one of the very best! Run don't walk to get tickets for this tour. She is, indeed, "spreading love"!

Tim - I'm so glad to read that you and Robert are doing so well. Diana Ross is a hypnotic woman, isn't she?

To tell the truth, I thought I was resistant to her hypnotism. The live experience changed that in a hurry. And a nice surprise hearing from you, Rod. Yes, after almost 26 (!!!) years, I guess Robert and I are doing well. TIM

I also attended the concert at Strathmore, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I didn't want the concert to end. I agree that the sound system could've been better, but I'm glad I got the opportunity to see Ms. Ross live!

She did not perform "I Will Survive" in a medley with "Take Me Higher." It was "Love Hangover" that led into "Take Me Higher." The set list and a more thorough review is here:

Thanks ever so for the clarification. TS

I was at the Diana Ross show at the Strathmore and I must say that it was the
worst sounding show that I have ever heard. I've been going to shows for over forty
years and heard some bad ones, but this was the worst. Yes, it was great to see a
living legend. Yes, it was great to see the costume changes. Yes, it was great that
she performed songs from throughout her career. But the most important part of
a live show is the sound. It was a muddled mess. It was so bad that she
stopped in the middle of a song and walked over to a sound engineer to complain.
What could and should have been a great show ended up being
a major disappointment.

I also saw Diana Ross at Strathmore. I have seen Diana perform live about 8 times. This concert was the best!!! She looks 20 or more years younger than her actual age. Her voice is just as crisp and beautiful as ever. The diverse crowd came together as one for 90 minutes loving every minute of the concert. Anyone who has not seen Diana Ross in concert is missing out on a true superstar performance. There is not and will never be a singer like Diana ever again. She has beauty, she sings flawlessly , she can act and she has that rare ability to speak to her audience and connect on a such a level that she has you adoring her and she has you in the palm of her hand! Her performance of "Don't Explain" was a hi-light of the concert to me but the whole evening had me smiling from ear to ear! I will never forget it!

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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