Diana Ross at the Santa Barbara Bowl, June 13, 2023 | Photo: Leslie Dinaberg

“As much as I love recording in the studio, there’s nothing more magical than the energy on stage,” boomed the voice of Diana Ross, over an extended video introduction that took us through her growing up in Detroit as one of of Ernestine and Fred Ross’s six children (including some funny interviews with her siblings), to her early success as the lead singer of the Supremes — who remain the best-charting female group in history, even though they dismantled in 1970 — and then through her impressive solo career as a singer, her film career, as well as a nod to her five children and eight grandchildren. 

And with that big, extended introduction, the Divine Ms. Diana was off and running, starting with “I’m Coming Out,” the 1980 hit that showed off the aforementioned “magical on stage energy” and the indescribable but undeniable star quality that has served her so very well since she made her debut with the Supremes in 1959. 

The fact that she’s 79, and was able to gracefully sing and dance her way through such hits as “I Love You More Today Than Yesterday,” “Baby Love,” “Stop in the Name of Love,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and so many more was impressive enough. But she was also a glamorous vision in an assortment of stunning and mostly very sparkly ensembles (I counted five costume changes plus two capes that when cast aside made each outfit into a completely different look).

Diana Ross in the first of several stunning gowns at the Santa Barbara Bowl, June 13, 2023 | Photo: Leslie Dinaberg

One of my favorite moments in a show that was filled with lots of them was when she pulled her grandchildren out of the audience and up on the stage to sing and dance adorably to “Upside Down.” “I do it all for these kids,” said Ross, adding, “Besides loving you [the audience], this is the love of my life.” 

She also had a nod (and another video) to some of the other loves of her life, dedicating a poignant version of “Missing You” (originally written by Lionel Richie as a tribute to Marvin Gaye) to “all of those that we’re missing right now” — including clips of herself performing with the Supremes, Gaye, and Michael Jackson, a dear friend and frequent collaborator. 

Diana Ross’s stage presence has always been as much of a calling card as her voice, and she uses both smartly now, playing to her strengths and using her charisma and well-timed shimmies, shakes, and struts to perfection, while letting her extremely capable backup singers do some of the more difficult vocal heavy lifting through songs like “I Will Survive,” “Ease On Down the Road” (from The Wiz, co-starring Michael Jackson), and “Do You Know Where You’re Going To” (from the film Mahogany, which she starred in 1975, and seems ripe for a remake with oh say, I’ll just put it out in the universe and cross my fingers,  Rihanna). That being said, her poignant version of “Don’t Explain”  — a 1946 Billie Holiday song that Ross sang in her portrayal of Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues — was perfectly in her vocal range, and one of the most beautiful songs of the night — and she sang it seated. 

But impressively Diana Ross remained on her feet through all of the rest of the approximately 20 song set, as did most of the clearly entertained crowd — honest to goodness (and there was a LOT of that), she still has the spirit and the moves of a Diva. 

Diana Ross taking command of the stage at the Santa Barbara Bowl, June 13, 2023 | Photo: Leslie Dinaberg


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