… And I’m smiling not just inside of those long-ago memories, but also inside of recent memories that are also attributable to Diana Ross and Gladys Knight (and perhaps my mom who I’m sure is looking down with excitement… for me). I attended not one but two amazing shows at Radio City Music Hall (www.radiocity.com/) featuring not only Ross and Knight, but Patti Labelle and Chaka Khan (www.divaswithheart.com/). The sold-out charity event started out as one show, but turned into two after the first sold out so quickly.
Patti Labelle’s publicist Aliya from Patti Webster’s agency W&W Public Relations Inc. graciously provided one of my tix. Thanks to her for being such a diva with heart. Ant, my buddy/freelance entertainment writer/concert/CD reviewer Michael K. Watts, and I attended the first show (technically the 2nd booked show), a matinee. Before we could walk in, we ran into Omarosa (www.omarosa.com/). As she managed a cell phone call, trying to figure out where to pick up her tickets, and her compact, she still found a moment to show me photo love. On this day (and that’s all I can comment on), I experienced her as a diva with heart. I’ve told you about Michael K. Watts’ e-newsletter “LIVE! FROM FRONT ROW” in which he does concert reviews (I’ve even shared them here: http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2007/8/5/funky-divas-dusted-dusty-and-dusted-off.html and http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2008/2/12/luv.html. Well, he’s given me permission to share it with you here.
But before I do that, I will share some of my thoughts – lifted from an email reply to my friend and fellow Diana fan Dustin (who attended the matinee show as well. I went to the later show as well):
YES! I AM THRILLED WITH DIANA! SHE WAS WONDERFUL! And though a more R&B audience, NYC seemed to LOVE her!!!!!!!!!!!!!
("I'M COMING OUT" EXCERPT: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JworY5R_HMY)
The first show was the best all around!
But DIANA was consistently good the 2nd go around. She still looked great. Her voice was strong (though perhaps a hair less so than first show. You know our perfect "fan" ears! But still, AWESOME VOCALS!). She changed into the champagne/gold/silver robe she's been wearing (instead of that black/blue number she changed into for Show #1). She didn't do "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" (instead changing on "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" after she brought Ashford & Simpson onto the stage). She too didn't do "I Love You" as she rushed off after an extended "I Will Survive" on which she asked that the house-lights be brought up so she could see everyone's faces. (After that, the ladies did a rehearsal-less (clearly) finale of "Lean on Me". Diana didn't participate. Not sure why. I can't see her agreeing to do it anyway. But I don't know what's true or not on that front.).
GLADYS was awesome again, but she's got her cabaret-style/short-show down to a science, given her Las Vegas/Flamingo gig over the last few years. She did wear a different dress (white sequins).
CHAKA - in same ensemble – for 2nd show. I'm sure you'll agree how good she was for 2:30 . She was much more loopy and scatter-brained during her banter in the 7:30 show. Plus, the vocals weren't as pristine. At one point, she referenced "the purple people" (a la her energy drink with antioxidants with which she mixes 'vodka' - her words). It turns out that was - among others - Tracee and Chudney's dad Bob Ellis (Silberstein) who you know once managed Chaka during the Rufus days. He clearly was on double duty - in support of Diana and Chaka.
PATTI did same show, but in different outfit (beige). But she talked much more and played much more - even at one point - asking not to be rushed by her musicians who were trying to keep it flowing - so they could get to MISS ROSS. (PATTI's BONUS FINALE: http://youtube.com/watch?v=RD-fVdsF6YU)
I saw Rhonda and Ross there to support DIANA.
ALWAYS GREAT TO SEE YOU!
friend to friend,
And here’s Michael K. Watts’ take:
LIVE! from Front Row
May 8, 2008
The LIVE! Review:
Divas Take Over New York
Diana Dazzles, Chaka Hollers, Gladys Gives Her All, and Patti Turns It Out at Radio City
Four R&B music divas, two shows, one day, one stage. Diana Ross, Patti LaBelle, Chaka Khan, and Gladys Knight united at Radio City Music Hall on May 4 for Divas With Heart, an historic benefit concert for New York 's renowned Masonic Medical Research Laboratory.
Self-proclaimed divas and wannabe divas of all types came from all over to witness this rare concert event. Star Jones, Ashford & Simpson, and even Omarosa were in the house.
Backed by the American Theater Orchestra under the direction of Paul Gemignani, the divas delivered two shows that day. There was nothing extraordinarily different about their performances; they were abbreviated versions of their usual standalone sets. But having all four of these divas, three of them sixtysomething's and another in her fifties, performing on the same bill was nothing short of magic.
Divas With Heart
Sunday, May 4, 2008
Radio City Music Hall
New York , New York
Gladys Knight's Set :
--The Way We Were
--License to Kill
The Nitty Gritty
Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)
Save the Overtime
Never Too Much
Every Beat of My Heart
Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me
I've Got To Use My Imagination
Neither One of Us (Wants To Be the First to Say Goodbye)
Midnight Train to Georgia (http://youtube.com/watch?v=5YIyT0fNQlo)
End of the Road
Chaka was the powerhouse. Gladys was soul stirrer. Diana was the beauty queen. Patti was drama queen.
The earlier of the shows was a 4-hour marathon of musical memories and nostalgia. Probably the best walk down memory lane was led by Gladys Knight, who took fans on a musical journey through hits from her days with The Pips. She profoundly connected with the audience with anecdotes from their collective experiences, like slow-dancing in a dimly-lit basement until your parents came down to break things up ("Every Beat of My Heart"). Oldies like "Midnight Train to Georgia" and "The Nitty Gritty" kept her 40-minute set energetic as she glided from her '60s Apollo Theater era through her R&B-Pop crossover era of the '80s ("Save the Overtime").
Dressed in a long, flowing semi-sheer dress in purple--her homage to the show's "heart" theme--diva Gladys visibly enjoyed the memories as much as the audience, who didn't hesitate to sing or clap along. She and her eight background vocalists also paid homage to her favorite songs by Luther Vandross and The Jacksons, as well as her own cover of the R&B hit "Superwoman," a song she said she "borrowed from one of the little girls" (referring to Karyn White). She simultaneously exuded veteran showmanship and bright-eyed innocence.
"This is my first time [performing] at Radio City Music Hall ," she beamed with her trademark smile. She even borrowed a camera and took a picture of the audience to capture the moment. "Neither One of Us," a Grammy Award winner and Hall of Fame recipient, found her emotional as she sang with eyes closed and arms stretched. The audience responded with a roaring standing ovation.
Pulling herself together, she finished the show on a high note with one of only two of her solo hits in this set, her 1994 cover of Boyz II Men's "End of the Road."
Chaka Khan's Set :
I Feel For You (http://youtube.com/watch?v=sKOgIwqcC4k)
To Sir With Love
Through the Fire
I'm Every Woman (http://youtube.com/watch?v=pHEUVvWPh0w)
Ironically, the road on this musical journey was just unfolding and soon led to 1984: "I Feel For You," Chaka Khan's massive hit courtesy of Prince. The sound of the song's opening "Chaka-Chaka-Chaka" turntable scratch got her fans fired up in no time.
Chaka's half-hour set, the shortest and least awe-inspiring of all the divas, was book-ended by dance fests to her biggest hits. While the audience partied to the #1 Billboard smash "Ain't Nobody" (recorded with her former band Rufus), Chaka salsa stepped in her form-fitting, bell-bottomed, purple and black fashion-questionable getup. She shamelessly had to pull her pants up a bit after all that dancing, and the audience ate it up with laughter.
The big-haired diva's mood was carefree and positive. The orchestral intro to "To Sir With Love" inspired her to dance whimsically about the stage. "That's my favorite song," she gushed over the song she covered for her jazz standards album, Classikhan. Her upbeat, engaging disposition showed she was genuinely happy to be there.
But vocally, Chaka didn't deliver a knock-'em-out performance like this special show might have warranted. Maybe the humility she expressed of performing on the bill with her "sisters," as she called the other divas, kept her from letting loose. Misunderstand not: Chaka HOLLERED and scatted and hollered some more. "Through the Fire" was vocally impressive but emotionless. She belted so effortlessly that it seemed she was just going through the motions. "Angel," from her recent Grammy Award winning album, Funk This, was just average.
Chaka's show closer turned things around and got the people on their feet. As red lights illuminated the hall's ceiling, she belted her woman-power anthem "I'm Every Woman" and encouraged the men to sing along, too.
Patti LaBelle's Set :
When You Talk About Love(http://youtube.com/watch?v=pR8oVkb_xAg)
Love, Need and Want You (http://youtube.com/watch?v=1rznofo_Xr8)
If Only You Knew/Somebody Loves You Baby (You Know Who It Is) (http://youtube.com/watch?v=P0T_-6MnE_8)
You Are My Friend (http://youtube.com/watch?v=75wET6LErAo)
2 Steps Away (http://youtube.com/watch?v=FN6Zt8BeVxs)
Lady Marmalade(with LaBelle) (http://youtube.com/watch?v=Xb2h-rBnabI)
When You Wish Upon a Star/Somewhere Over the Rainbow
After a brief intermission, Patti LaBelle pranced out in a voluminous, white coat dress and had the audience eating out the palm of her hand. "Patti, Patti!" the audience shouted in response to her "say my name" command on "When You Talk About Love." She furthered the journey down memory lane with a medley of her hits, including R&B staples "If Only You Knew" and "Love, Need and Want You."
Patti brought diva drama to this show high above all the other divas. She used a mirror to check her face and asymmetrical, bob-style wig, as diamonds sparkled forever around her neck. Her well-oiled, mocha-complexioned legs were perched atop stilettos by Versace and Christian Louboutin (she changed them three times).
Patti kept it real. "Hey, people in the balcony," she said with a smiling gaze. She talked a lot--about her ever-present menopause, about having diabetes (but diabetes not having her), her hurting feet, her fellow divas, and the loved ones she lost too soon. She dedicated "You Are My Friend" to the memory of a long list of notables that included Gerald Levert, Sean Levert, Yolanda King, and Anna Nicole Smith. "I sing to keep their candles lighted," she said overcome with emotion.
Diva Patti's drama and her repeated shout-outs, anecdotes and conversation often overshadowed her vocal performance. Rolling across the stage with her stilettos strewn about was more memorable than the notes she belted from down there. She asked a lanky Englishman in the front row to help her up off the floor. Then, she shifted the drama to her voice with "2 Steps Away," an inspirational song that was also emotional for her.
The highlight of Patti's set was the surprise reunion with former LaBelle group members Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx, who electrified with their hit "Lady Marmalade." Audience members were invited on stage to get sassy with the ladies. Ironically, this reunion was a magical moment that all but one of the show's divas have been privileged to share with their former group members in the recent era. Chaka has done so a few times. Gladys never truly left hers. But Diana tried very publicly a few years ago with no success. Patti also revealed that LaBelle was finishing their reunion album, due in September, featuring collaborations with Lenny Kravitz, Leon Gamble, and Nile Rodgers.
At 48 minutes long, Patti's set went over the divas' half-hour set time mandate. Her extended rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" had people waving blue glow sticks in the air in approval. She wore it out for sure. "You've got so much more show to see," she interrupted before the song's big finish. "I love you, New York ." And with that, she hoisted the microphone stand in the air and tossed it across the stage as she belted the final note. The audience erupted in standing applause, and Patti stepped into the audience share hugs.
After her slow exit, the audience begged for more with chants of "Patti! Patti! Patti! Patti!" Little did they know that another diva was waiting in the wings (or rather, the lobby) preparing her grand entrance. And what a grand entrance it was.
Diana Ross' Set :
Intro: Take Me Higher
(BT's Sonic Illusion Mix)
I'm Coming Out (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JworY5R_HMY)
Where Did Our Love Go?
Stop! In the Name of Love (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMnG3Tc6pPc)
You Can't Hurry Love
Why Do Fools Fall In Love?
Theme from Mahogany
(Do You Know Where You're Going To?)
Ain't No Mountain High Enough
Ain't No Mountain High Enough (Reprise)
I Will Survive
I Love You
I Will Survive (Reprise)
Unlike the others, diva Diana Ross entered from the back of the auditorium, wrapped in a fiery ball of red Flamenco ruffles and trailed by intimidating bodyguards. "I'm Coming Out," the fitting soundtrack to her entrance, drew starry-eyed gazes and waves as she strutted by.
Dropping the ruffled train of her dress to the stage floor, she embarked on the last leg of show's musical journey through time. Supremes-era, love-themed hits like "Baby Love," "Stop! In the Name of Love," and "You Can't Hurry Love" had every voice in the auditorium singing along to every word.
"The super-duper Supremes," Diana exclaimed with pride. "You've had lots of great memories tonight." She let the oldies speak for themselves and added little commentary. Her set was more sing-along and less of a guided tour through time. "I love it when you sing along," she said and encouraged so on "Endless Love." More blue glow sticks waved back and forth from the audience, too.
Halfway through her 43-minute set, she bowed to the audience with her arms outstretched. This classic Diana gesture was only the tip of the Diana diva drama iceberg. Diana put Patti's three shoe changes to shame with five dazzling clothing "looks" culled from two dresses accessorized with a removable ruffle train, a stole of tulle netting, and a long black coat embroidered with silver sequins and dramatic black feathers.
Still, she exuded grace and elegance, standing regal on red platform pumps under her fluffy weaved dome. That is, when she wasn't shimmying and hip-shaking. "Alright, I wanna see some chair-dancin' out there" she directed on "Upside Down." When a diva says dance, she means dance! The audience responded without hesitation. For them, it was all about the music, and Diana delivered with a handful of her solo hits to round out her set.
The crescendo of Diana's #1 Billboard hit "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" lifted people out of their seats during the set's climatic moment. The sequined diva worked both sides of the stage on "I Will Survive," and delivered a heart-tugging rendition of "I Love You" with her two background vocalists.
By the time the curtain fell on this diva, an unexplainable high had consumed the audience. People hurriedly dug out their cell phones to share the experience with others while still exiting the aisles. Many surely had never experienced such an awesome afternoon of music, and likely they never would again. They witnessed music history. Diva history.
Hours later the divas would do it all again. But this time, a concertgoer reports, three of the divas--Patti, Gladys, and Chaka--closed the night with a rendition of "Lean On Me," which also featured Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx. Diana reportedly did not participate--a diva to the very end.
DIVAS DOWN! Diana, Patti, Chaka, and Gladys:
Top 15 Diva Moments of the Divas With Heart Show
New Yorkers witnessed music history on May 4 as the Divas With Heart benefit concert brought Diana Ross, Patti LaBelle, Chaka Khan, and Gladys Knight together at Radio City Music Hall for two unforgettable shows. Concertgoers also witnessed divas being divas in their own quirky ways.
Divas are classy and crass. They can be stone cold or a hot mess. Usually, they're in excellent voice, but not always. An elegant, flowing gown and matching stilettos are a must. Divas command their stage, but sometimes things fall apart. They forget lyrics to their own songs, the members of their own band, and anything else they're forced to remember. To be a diva is to be all of these things and still be fabulous in spite of herself.
With all of these divas on one stage under one roof, the diva moments were endless in a 4-hour show. Here's a countdown of the Top 15 Diva Moments from the first of two shows that magical day:
1. PATTI: A diva is never too grand to get down and dirty. In classic Patti style, the diva performed a portion of "You Are My Friend" on her knees, then lying on her back, and with a couple of rolls across the stage floor. She even kicked off her Christian Louboutin pumps--the second time she had done so, and now there were four stiletto pumps strewn about her stage. One of the pumps got away from the others, and a man in the front row kindly sailed it back across the floor closer to Patti. Outdone that he had tossed one of her pumps, Patti stopped the show and made the man come on stage and hand it to her properly. Moments later she borrowed a pair of thong sandals from a female audience member for her aching feet. She thanked the young lady for letting her borrow the shoes by giving her a few of the flowers she had received earlier from Chaka. Oh, yes, she did!
2. CHAKA: Sometimes a diva has to adjust her costume. Chaka, in a borderline crass move, stepped back to the area next to the conductor with her backside to the audience, pulled up her sagging pants with a few shakes of her hips, and strolled back to the front of the stage to perform the classy, romantic "To Sir With Love." Only a diva can do that.
3. PATTI: Who said divas had to remember people's names? After her opening number, Patti was wound up with energy and was moved to thank various people on stage for being with her. She thanked band members by name, but she suspiciously didn't, or possibly couldn't, name her background vocalists. She also forgot the name of the orchestra conductor. Then, she thanked Gladys, Chaka and the "little girl before me," referring to Jaine Rogers who opened the second act. Moments later, however, she had no problems remembering designer names Donna Karan, Zang Toi, Gianni Versace, and Christian Louboutin whom she thanked for her clothing and stilettos.
4. GLADYS: A diva can never have too many people around her. Although the divas were all backed by the American Theater Orchestra, they brought their own rhythm sections and background vocalists. While the other divas brought three or fewer background vocalists, Gladys was the only one bold enough to bring a whopping eight (8) of them. Yes, eight.
5. DIANA: A diva must always make a grand entrance. Diana was the only diva to enter the venue from the rear center aisle of the audience, something she ironically hasn't done in quite some time. She was a big, fiery ball of red Flamenco ruffles and jet black hair weave that exploded on stage to the tune of "I'm Coming Out." Now, that's a diva entrance.
6. PATTI: A diva's performance rider must be fulfilled without fail. After her big opening number, Patti was out of breath and thirsty. She looked for water atop her piano which is her makeshift dressing area on stage, fit with flowers and necessities like tissues, a mirror, and replacement stilettos if her feet hurt. She held up an empty crystal glass and sang these words to a made up melody: "I need some water right now, and I don't see no water right now." Shockingly, water wasn't rushed on stage in time for the next song. Gasp!
7. DIANA: A true diva changes her outfit at least twice during a performance. Diana, in classic Diana style, wore five gown "looks" for a set lasting just under 45 minutes. A red long strapless, sequined gown was worn with a Flamenco style ruffle train, without the Flamenco train, and with a red stole of tulle netting which an assistant brought out in the middle of "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?" A black strapless, sequined gown was worn alone and with long black coat embroidered with silver sequins and dramatic black feathers.
8. CHAKA: Divas generally prefer their shows to go only as they have planned. Halfway through her set, Chaka was speaking to the audience about her music. Someone in the audience interrupted her and yelled out a request for her to sing "Through the Fire." Chaka quipped, "Ok, darling, we're gonna get to that." Then she discovered the song was actually up next. After a pause, she half-begrudgingly admitted, "We're gonna do it right now."
9. GLADYS: Divas will be divas. In introducing her cover of Karyn White's hit "Superwoman," Gladys said sometimes she comes across a song from the younger generation with a message that speaks to her. So, she said she decided to borrow the song from one of the "little girls"… as the stagehands set three stools across the stage for her and two background vocalists to perform the same song, Gladys teased them by accusing them of setting stools out when she had not said she was tired. She joked, "I guess I'll just sit all across the stage."
10. PATTI: Shoe maintenance is essential for a diva's performance. A few songs into her set, Patti said her stiletto pumps were fierce but had to come off. So, she kicked off her Versace pumps right on stage and put on a fresh pair of Christian Louboutin pumps instead. "I was born in pumps," she sassily remarked.
11. DIANA: What a diva says goes… even if she's wrong. Toward the end of her set, Diana had a proud moment for this special show. She looked up at the video monitor and read the words of the show's title. "Divas With A Heart," she said emphatically. The show was actually dubbed Divas With Heart, but who would dare correct Diana?
12. MYSTERY DIVA: A diva doesn't do anything unless she really wants to. Between acts it was announced that the show's charity, Masonic Medical Research Laboratory, had received a donated grand piano. The organization was said to be auctioning the piano which "most of our divas have signed." I won't dare guess which diva had not yet signed it.
13. DIANA: The older they get, the less divas like to work. But they can still laugh about it. Halfway through her set, Diana basked in the glow of nostalgia from her music. "This is like the good old days," she said. "Two shows in one night? Oh, God!" She laughed and clutched her fictitious pearls.
14. GLADYS: Sometimes divas need unexpected assistance with their performances. In the opening lines of " Midnight Train to Georgia ," Gladys asked the audience to sing along by saying, "Come on! Be my Pips!"
15. CHAKA: Divas are loved just as much as they are hated. Just two songs into her set, Chaka commented on how wonderful Gladys' show was and how all of the other divas were her sisters. But "all the haters" she politely dismissed. ■
Yes! I'm still smiling <grinning cheek to cheek - showing all teeth>
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