When it was first announced that Diana would join the short list of exclusive artists to perform in Central Park. Diana was riding a 5 year wave of uptrending popularity from her critically acclaimed/platinum album, "The Boss", to the mega-success of the Chic produced "diana" album that went onto sell 10 million copies globally, followed closely by what Billboard has declared some 30 years later, "The Biggest Duet of AllTime" w/"Endless Love" to her platinum RCA/EMI debut, "Why Do Fools Fall in Love", it's follow-up the near platinum "Silk Electric" with the Michael Jackson written and produced single, "Muscles" to the album that would spearhead this global concert, "Ross '83". (Diana was already one of those rare artists to have her career be ever stronger in its third decade. The Supremes dominated the charts from 1964-1970. Then Diana's first solo surge happened immediately in 1970 when the Grammy nominated "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" would be her first solo #1. Then her movie career blossomed from 1972-76 as she got an Oscar nod for "Lady" and a French Cesar for "Mahogany". This next surge began in 1979 with "The Boss").
Throughout the 70s and early 80s, Diana Ross concerts were like love-ins. It seemed no matter what you had felt about her and/or body of work, she had a unique gift to entertain audiences into gleeful nirvana. She had been a pupil of Werner Earhard's "EST" which seem to draw her even closer to her audiences. I imagined Central Park to be a great big love-in. I had been traveling annually to New York since 1972/73. I had the privilege of seeing her at Radio City a number of times before this engagement. I thought I knew New York. But a decade later, there were clearly a lot of things I needed to learn. Her audiences were usually comprised of about 60% white, 20% black and 20% multi-racial. Though the Chic produced "diana" album stayed ontop of the Billboard R&B Album chart for nearly 18 weeks, her core audiences were not black. Arriving at the park by noon on 21 July 1983, the park was already beginning to fill up for a show not scheduled to start until dusk, 6:00 p.m. The audience was already heavily populated with her black and Hispanic fans. Even the normally strong alliance with the LGBT community was not as evident as it usually was.
It was an extremely hot July day with a powerful sun beaming down. To keep the burgeoning crowd entertained, they attempted to show "Lady Sings the Blues" on the jumbotron. However, the bright sun made it difficult to always see the screen. Radios were blasting Diana songs. Industrious New Yorkers were selling ice cubes and water to the sweltering audiences. When she finally hit the stage at around 6:00 p.m., the wind was beginning to whip up. The dancers on stage struggled through the wind as Diana's hair blew wildly in the wind. The first highlight was a touching rendition of "Family" from "Dreamgirls". New Yorkers knew the cast album, but, were pleasantly surprised that Diana had included this in the repertoire despite all the gossip that Diana had "issues" with the award winning Broadway show. The wind continues to blow wildly. The audiences continued to mimmick the wind. Wild is the wind! And then seemingly out of nowhere, a dark cloud began to dominate the New York skies. For the first half hour, Diana tried admirably to confront mother nature......only to have the weather make the definitive statement. The rain followed and it only got stronger and stronger. The New York audiences seem to join Diana in defying mother nature. Would the rain "Stop! in the name of Love" or would Diana urge her audience to, "Come in from the Rain". Even if you are Diana Ross, you don't mess with mother nature. (I truly believed the rain had to happen to diffuse the electricity of the wild audience).
The Supremes medley during the rain ranks as one of her most compelling performances. She improvised brilliantly! She remained true to "The show must go on" and she created an iconic moment that will forever be branded into our entertainment psyche. (even her staunchest critics could not deny that the lady seemed to get more and more beautiful as the rain poured down. One marywilson commented enviously that her Lancôme make-up did not run at all though the rain came down furiously).
The next day, she returned to that stage completely re-energized. The setlist was altered from the day before. Opening with the appropriate "I'm Coming Out", she was determined to fully entertain the 400,000 plus that either returned for more or decided to join in the celebration now that the show was being rescheduled. Highlights include the second single, "Let's Go Up" that sounded like a #1 record as the colorful balloons floated up the sky. When she sung, "God Bless the Child", her conviction to the lyrics rivaled her performance of that song during her 1980 HBO special. This time, it sequed into a scorching version of "Mirror, Mirror" that may be the most commanding performance of the day. She kept things contemporary offering a fun take on Michael Sembello's "Maniac" from the 80s blockbuster, "Flashdance". When she returned to the stage in a breathtaking Issey Miyake yellow ensemble, she made Stevie Wonder's recent, "Ribbon in the Sky" her own.... underscoring yet another turn of his catalog that begs for her to do an album of Stevie's songs.....she does them so well. As she toyed with her recent Top 10, "Muscles".....audience participation got very comical. She even got the New York Police involved in the fun antics to "Muscles". Her solo version of "Endless Love" was combined with the duet version and it moved the diva to real emotional tears. You could not help but wonder if she was reflecting on the roller coaster ride of the last couple of days or simply touched by the fact that she had kept her end of the bargain, and gave New York one of the most memorable Central Park concerts. Whether you believe the adjusted report that she pulled in an audience of 400,000 or you believe like I did and the New York Daily News reported that the first day commanded over 800,000 fans.....the fact that 400,000 returned for the encore underscored that she drew the biggest audience ever to Central Park.....a record that still stands today (though the Park Commissioner no longer allows random attendance, and capacity taps out at 100,00. Tickets are allocated before hand to insure crowd control). This was truly an event! It is hard to believe it was 30 years ago because Diana looks as vibrant today, as she did then. It is one of Diana's finest hours, in a career with many. In fact, nearly 20 years later, she gave another astounding New York performance in tribute to the 20th anniversary of "Lady Sings the Blues" at her pay-per-view, "Stolen Moments" concert at the old New York Ritz. Clearly, New York is her town and this show proves it undoubtedly. It is finally here and somehow it seems like the right time!