Diana Ross is 75 today, but it’s no ordinary birthday.
While most people mark a birthday with cake and a party, Ms. Ross is celebrating the worldwide theatrical premiere of her new documentary film, Diana Ross: Her Life, Love and Legacy, a movie that highlights her legacy as a performer including her landmark 1983 concert in New York's Central Park.
The film includes never-before-seen footage from that day, interviews with her family including her children, with Tracee Ellis Ross presenting an introduction to the film, which is being shown in a two-night screening event.
The concert has been remastered for the film showing the iconic event held that July in all it’s stormy glory.
Ms. Ross performed to a record-breaking audience of 450,000 in New York despite a thunderstorm raging on, she then returned the day after for an impromptu second try.
The film shows us why Ms. Ross has had such a lasting career with more than 60 years in the business.
As a news reporter said that day: “Diana Ross proved beyond a doubt why she wears the title of SUPERSTAR.”
“I believe imagination is magical, that we can think of something and bring it into being,” said Ms. Ross.
The film starts with her big opening number, but as she ditches her carnivalesque rainbow coloured outfit shedding it to reveal a sparkly orange bodysuit, she’s seen struggling as the wind whips her hair into her face. It was a sign of what was to come.
But no matter what Ms. Ross was going to continue for as long as she could. This was the moment she had been dreaming of back in Detroit as a little girl, she wasn’t going to let a ‘little bit of rain’ beat her.
But the weather worsened.
“I was praying that each and every person in the audience was safe and could hear me clearly when I asked him to walk out of the park,” she told Mirror Online exclusively.
As Ms. Ross donned an orange cape it looked like Mother Nature would win. Then she held her arms outstretched to the darkness, her cape billowing behind her and lashes of rain beating her face. She looked like a sorceress, a fitting image, as the way she carried the crowd with her was nothing short of magic.
The storm was in full force, but ever the professional Ms. Ross attempted to sing Reach out and touch, pausing to ask for everyone’s attention.
“It took me a lifetime to get here, I’m not going anywhere,” she shouted out. “Are you afraid of the rain? If we can make this work we can make anything work baby.”
But by 6.33pm Ross was drenched, dancing to an 18-acres deep crowd of umbrellas, but she continued to remain positive telling her fans she’d do the show tomorrow.
The rain will “only help us grow,” she smiled.
You can hear the lashing rain and crackling on her mic as she begs her musicians to let her play Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, but she pushes on showing nothing can keep a true diva down.
“What I said was we’re going to get wet and it’s OK,” Ms. Ross recalls. “Rain can be healing and beautiful. It’s nature.”
Her resolute – and unfailingly positive attitude – was praised in the press the next day, but time has given the star a new perspective on the concert.
“You don’t see it when you’re in it,” she admitted. “Looking back after it finished was so amazing.”
It was far from plain sailing she explains. “When I almost fell off the stage and I did this incredible twirl around that even I could not believe, especially when you looked at where I would have fallen,” she said. “That moment was an amazing God-given gift and blessing.”
The Central Park concert is just an example of what a powerhouse Ross truly is, her spirit remains as strong today as it was then.
Ross returned the day after as promised bursting on to the stage to I’m Coming Out this time in purple sequins with clear skies. “It’s a new day, it’s a beautiful day,” she shouted.
Ms. Ross said she was the “happiness women in the world” as she sings It’s More than You “this may be the most important moment in my life”.
The star powered through an epic track list holding the crowd in the palm of her hand demanding quiet for the softer songs and endless energy for the more upbeat.
But does she have a favourite from her back catalogue?
“I have been singing and performing since I was a teenager and we recorded so many incredible songs with the Supremes and then as a solo performer,” she said. “I’ve had incredibly great songwriters like Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson.
“They wrote Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and Reach Out and Touch. And then Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards with I’m Coming Out and Upside Down. And many, many great songwriters — Brian Holland Eddie Holland and LaMont Dozier. Smoky Robinson, Stevie Wonder and Lionel Richie. I cannot list them all. Fantastic musicians and songwriters!”
And what about songs she never got to sing, were there any? “Not really. I would have to think about it,” she mused.
Something she doesn’t have to think about is her love for her family who feature in the film and react for the first time to the Central Park concert.
“My mom stood her ground with Mother Nature and stayed there on the stage, soaking wet like a parent or some sort of goddess wooing everyone to safety.” Tracee Ellis Ross said. “She transformed into something bigger and stronger than the brilliant performer she’d always been.”
Rhonda Ross added: “To me, my mother’s concert in Central Park is an incredible example of the power of shining in the midst of darkness.”
Chudney Ross remembered the concert not as a terrifying moment, but as a safe place thanks to Ross: “I do remember it feeling crazy and loud and big, but also filled with love. I didn’t feel scared. I felt safe.”
“It was a groundbreaking moment – not only for African Americans but also for people in general,” said Evan Ross.
The documentary may include her “magical” children’s reaction to seeing the concert, but Ms. Ross’ grandson has been the one making headlines. Raif-Henok gave a speech honouring his grandmother at the Grammy’s earlier this year, stealing the show.
It’s clear Ms. Ross is proud of him too as she is of all of her family. “My grandson is born to shine,” she said. “I was there at his birth and [have spent] lots and lots of time with him.
“I have said to him, ‘I cannot teach you French or Spanish, but I can show you how to love and be loved.’ He is a loving incredibly talented and smart child.”
This love for her family and her career comes across in the film, in fact, Ms. Ross utters the word love so much it’s like it’s a motto – a motto she lived by in '83 as she battled rain and wind, and a motto she lives by now.
What makes her happy hasn't changed too much either as she marks her 75th birthday.
“Wearing beautiful clothes and dancing in the light makes me feel happy and joyful, and I love, love, love music,” she says.
When we tell her she looks just as amazing today as that day in Central Park she reacts it humbly.
“Thank you so much. I really like hearing that. That’s why I really want to celebrate at 75. I am feeling so blessed, and I feel so good and my friends and family have just given me so much love that I want so to return that love to them.”
The film promises us her legacy, fans may say that’s her music but for Ross, it’s summed up in two words.
“Family. Love,” she says simply.
To get tickets for Diana Ross: Her Life, Love and Legacy screenings on March 26 and March 28 visit here.
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