Diana Ross may have been celebrating her 75th birthday at home in Los Angeles on Tuesday night. But they were partying in her home town of Detroit as well.
The Motown Museum, situated in Berry Gordy Jr.’s original Hitsville USA headquarters, used the evening’s Emagine theater screening of Diana Ross, Her Life, Love and Legacy, a new documentary about the singer’s famed 1983 concerts in New York’s Central Park, as a special event to celebrate the occasion. Patrons in the sold-out theater in the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak were serenaded by the local Prism Mens Chorus, which sang her hit “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” as well as “Happy Birthday.”
Ross’ youngest sister Rita — reminding everybody she’s the “baby of the family — I’m not yet 75” — also spoke to the crowd, noting that “I was blessed to be part of my sister’s journey for over seven decades.” That included traveling with the Supremes as part of a Dick Clark Caravan tour and joining the group on Sammy Davis Jr.’s private plane on its way to the trio’s first engagement at the Copacabana in New York during 1965. “I remember we were going over and over and over, trying to get their opening speech (down), so I learned it by heart,” the younger Ross said.
Rita Ross told Billboard that after all these years she’s still awed by her older sister’s accomplishments but still views her as just part of the family. “I don’t see her in the same light as everybody else,” Ross noted. “I see her just as my big sister.” Ross added that she expects Diana — who will perform a year-long series of Golden Jubilee concerts this year — to continue singing “forever. Our grandfather was 107 when he died, and he was still preaching. She has said she will (perform) forever. I don’t know what would stop her.”
The Motown Museum’s Paul Barker said that Diana Ross is “one of the more frequent visitors” among the label’s alumni, stopping in when she’s on tour or visiting Detroit, often bringing an entourage of musicians and others with her. “She wants them all to see where she got her start,” Barker explained, adding that Ross tends to visit “with no special treatment. She’ll be there with the other visitors. One of my favorite stories to tell is when a visitor asked her if she was Diana Ross and she said she ways, and they laughed at her and walked away.”
Tuesday night’s event in Detroit also included a specially videotaped message by Rhonda Ross, her daughter with Gordy and a member of the Motown Museum board.
“Diana Ross, her Life, Love and Legacy” screens again on Thursday night at theaters around the country, featuring previously unseen footage and new interviews with Ross’ children. Details can be found at www.FathomEvents.com.