Diana Ross is making her third Louisiana appearance in recent years Saturday at the Saenger Theatre. The queen of Berry Gordy’s Motown Records empire in the 1960s, Ross previously performed at the Saenger and the Baton Rouge River Center in 2013.
Ross, of course, led Motown’s most successful act, The Supremes. The trio, which also featured Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard and, later, Cindy Birdsong, released 12 No. 1 songs during the 1960s. Ross, with The Supremes and as a solo act, eventually sold 100 million records, including 18 No. 1 hits.
In the 1960s, The Supremes, a product of Detroit, rivaled The Beatles’ chart popularity. The slinky trio regularly shared the mainstream pop charts with British invasion acts and The Supremes’ Motown peers Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Martha and The Vandellas, The Four Tops and The Marvelettes.
If Ross’ 2013 concert in New Orleans is a clue, fans can expect to hear such Supremes classics as “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “Stop! In the Name of Love.”
But Ross, who left The Supremes in 1970, has been a solo star much longer than she was a Supreme. Saturday’s Saenger audience likely will hear solo hits “Ease on Down the Road” (from “The Wiz”); celebratory solo hit “I’m Coming Out” (composed by funk and rhythm-and-blues genius Nile Rodgers); and her disco-era hit “Love Hangover.”
Appearing earlier this month at the renovated Kings Theater in Brooklyn, New York, Ross drew a well-heeled, sold-out crowd, including the city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, and his wife.
Her New York show featured classics by other artists, including Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (a hit for Ross in the ’70s), Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers’ “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” Ross sang the latter disco anthem at the Super Bowl XXX halftime show in 1996.
New York Times reviewer Jon Caramanica noted that Ross, 70, didn’t perform a flashy show at the Kings Theater. He characterized the concert as practiced and convincing.
“Throughout the night, Ms. Ross was hitting the vocal sketches of the songs, if not always the full shading,” the Times critic judged. Because Ross’ songs are so familiar to audiences, however, “it was easy to get so lost in them that you might miss where Ms. Ross dropped out and her backup singers took over.”
The show also features a photo montage containing images of Ross from decades past.
Ross, then a teenager, formed doo-wop group The Primettes with Wilson, Ballard and Barbara Martin in 1959. In 1960, the group signed with Motown and changed its name to The Supremes. When Martin left the group, it carried on as a trio. The Supremes’ Ross-led hits ended in 1969 with a fitting farewell, “Someday We’ll Be Together.”
At this point in her 50-plus-year career, Ross is collecting well-deserved honors. In 2012, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences presented Ross with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2007, BET honored her with its Lifetime Achievement Award. That year, too, she received The Kennedy Center Honors. And the Supremes were among the early inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
At the Kennedy Center Honors, Ross’ fellow Motown star Smokey Robinson announced her award.
“There’s this young girl, the tomboy type, hanging around, trying to get in on things, and you can’t get rid of her,” Robinson recalled of Ross during the early days of Motown. “Diana really wanted to be Diana Ross, Lady Supreme. Diana was all eyes, all dreams, all determination.”