The HBO special, first aired in early 1980 as part of the network’s Standing Room Only series. It was taped in 1979 at Caesar’s Palace as Ross promoted her then-current album, The Boss. The album, featuring writers/producers Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, featured songs that showed off a range and power that many had forgotten Diana Ross possessed. This was a peak time in the diva’s career; Ross dazzled audience around the world with her demanding, Tony Award-winning An Evening With Diana Ross stage show, and starred with protege Michael Jackson in the 1978 film The Wiz.
If ever there’s a moment that brilliantly and perfectly illustrates the star-power possessed by Diana Ross, it is the opening of her 1978-1979 stage show, captured on tape for this Home Box Office television special. Beginning with the star’s face projected on a large screen, set to her number one hit Ashford and Simpson’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, the scene cuts to Ross (draped in furs and jewels, of course) sauntering down a white, almost surreal staircase. At the bottom of the stairs – during the joyous, climactic crescendo of the song – she suddenly bursts from the screen and onto the stage, greeted by the screams and cheers of an overwhelmed audience. Those lucky enough to be at these shows literally watched a superstar come to life before their eyes; incredibly, the impact is equally great when watched on a television screen decades later.
The show’s undoubted centerpiece and perhaps most stunning sequence (aside from that amazing opening) – her audience participation number Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand). This will take up nearly the next 15 minutes of the show, as Diana walks into the audience, inviting the audience to sing along with her. This should be REQUIRED VIEWING for all wannabe entertainers; Diana Ross shows why she is (or, at least should be) considered one of the very few great live performers in music history.
The way she handles the audience, coaxing complete strangers into singing with her, is masterful. Another treat here is the familiar faces in the audience; Diana’s mother and three daughters get some screen-time, with the three little girls incredibly cute and seemingly unaffected by the huge audience surrounding them. Ross also gets the legendary Marvin Gaye to croon a few lines of the song, his voice breathtaking in its perfection; seriously – this man’s voice could melt better, and his brief time at the microphone is all the proof anyone would need that he was one of the best male vocalists of all time. By the end of the this performance, the audience has joined hands and is singing the song along with Miss Ross; the crowd is absolutely enraptured and welcome Diana back to the stage with a deserved standing ovation. This is it, folks. This is why Diana Ross is a legend.