Diana Ross delivers decades' worth of hits at National Arts Centre Gala

Singer's performance gets high praise from Ontario premier, federal finance minister and U.S. ambassador

Legendary Motown singer Diana Ross showed off her penchant for glamour and gowns as she took a concert hall packed with people on a nostalgic trip down memory lane at this year's National Arts Centre Gala.

The annual arts benefit gathered together top business leaders, politicians and philanthropists from around the country for a memorable evening that raised $781,000 for the National Youth and Education Trust, which supports the NAC’s arts and education programs across Canada.

At age 74, the lead Supreme was in top form. She charged through her beloved hits, from Where Did Our Love Go, Baby Love, Can’t Hurry Love, Stop In the Name of Love, More Today Than Yesterday, Endless Love, Do You Know Where You're Going To, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. There were strict rules prohibiting photography during the show but the Detroit-born star hasn’t lost her megawatt smile nor her big hair. And, she went through more costume changes than one could casually keep track of.

The sold-out, 2,000-person audience adored her.

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Sophie Grégoire Trudeau with Diana Ross at the NAC Gala, held Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Photo by Ernesto di Stefano

“It’s the arts centre at its best," Adrian Burns told OBJ.social after the concert. Not only is Burns the chair of the NAC's board of trustees but she also chaired the gala's organizing committee and is a director of Canadian telecommunications company Shaw Communications — one of the major gala sponsors. "When you see people happy like that how can it be any better?"

It was the first NAC Gala for U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft. Last year's big night took place about a month before she arrived to town to begin her new posting. She was seen on the red carpet with her husband, Joe Craft, and Ontario premier, Doug Ford, who attended as her guest.

“It was like going down memory lane," Craft told OBJ.social of Ross's performance. "You could take yourself back to every song, from where you were when you first heard it, no matter what age you were.”

Ford could relate. "It just brought back so many memories," he told OBJ.social, before adding with a chuckle: "I'm aging myself."

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From left, U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft with Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Adrian Burns, chair of the board of trustees for the National Arts Centre, at the NAC Gala featuring Diana Ross, held at the downtown arts centre on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, NAC Foundation CEO Jayne Watson with her gala committee chair Adrian Burns at the NAC Gala that raised $781,000 for the NAC's National Youth and Education Trust. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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Ontario Premier Doug Ford is greeted by Adrian Burns at the NAC Gala featuring Diana Ross, held at the National Arts Centre on Oct. 3, 2018, while in the background is Ambassador Kelly Craft (not seen) and her husband, Joe Craft. Photo by Caroline Phillips 

On stage with Ross was the NAC Orchestra, under the baton of music director Alexander Shelley. She also had her band and a choir of two dozen-plus singers. Heads were seen bouncing and bobbing along to her music throughout her show. Audience members waved their arms back and forth, like at a stadium concert, as Ross and her choir lifted the crowd with their gospel-sounding Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand).

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Maestro Alexander Shelley on the red carpet with his wife, Zoe, at the NAC Gala featuring Diana Ross, held at the downtown arts centre on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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Honorary patrons John and Bonnie Buhler at the NAC Gala that raised $781,000 for the NAC's National Youth and Education Trust. Photo by Caroline Phillips 

Clapping and swaying with the rest of them was Ford, as well as federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau. He admittedly stopped short of singing along. “My voice is bad,” he quipped.

“Her energy was absolutely spectacular,” Morneau told OBJ.social. “You could not for a moment know that she was in the seventh decade of her life because she commanded the room.”

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Nancy McCain and her husband, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau, at the National Arts Centre for the NAC Gala featuring Diana Ross, held Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The arts centre was transformed that night into a dazzling discotheque. Sequins —  a classic party enhancement — were all the rage, both in the decor and fashion. The evening featured a pre-concert reception with live music that got partygoers dancing beneath a giant disco ball and coloured lights. There was also a dinner for ticket-holders in the Canada Room after the show. 

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The NAC Gala, held at the National Arts Centre on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018, got the crowd dancing during the live entertainment featured during the pre-concert reception. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The annual gala saw Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, back in her role as honourary chair. She took to the stage, wearing a gown made by Canadian designer Mikael D. She was joined by NAC Foundation CEO Jayne Watson to announce this year’s gala proceeds (Watson has been named this year's Outstanding Fundraising Professional by the Ottawa chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals).

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Honourary chair Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, with her mother, Estelle Blais, at the NAC Gala that raised $781,000 for the NAC's National Youth and Education Trust. Photo by Caroline Phillips . Photo by Caroline Phillips 

Among the sponsors and supporters seen arriving were: Jacques Emond, co-founding partner of labour and employment law firm Emond Harnden; Rogers Communications vice president Heidi Bonnell, Mark Motors of Ottawa co-owner Liza Mrak, Quebecor Media senior vice president Serge Sasseville and Asper Foundation president Gail Asper. It was the first NAC Gala for Christopher Deacon, former orchestra manager, in his new and elevated role as president and CEO of the National Arts Centre.

Ontario Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell and Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez attended, as did Winnipeg philanthropists Bonnie and John Buhler as honorary patrons. Also seen was Watson's brother, Mayor Jim Watson.

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From left, Ottawa lawyer Jacques Emond (Emond Harnden) with his wife, Ellen, and Patrick Twagirayezu, a student at the firm, at the NAC Gala featuring Diana Ross, held at the downtown arts centre on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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From left, Ariel Vered, who was part of the gala organizing committee, with her sister, Jordana, at the NAC Gala featuring Diana Ross, held at the downtown arts centre on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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Gala committee member Heidi Bonnell, who's also vice president of federal government affairs for sponsor Rogers Communications, with her husband, Joseph Galimberti, at the NAC Gala featuring Diana Ross, held at the downtown arts centre on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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From left, NAC donor Janice O'Born with Ontario Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell and NAC president and CEO Christopher Deacon at the NAC Gala featuring Diana Ross, held Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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NAC Foundation board member Gary Zed with Liza Mrak of sponsor Mark Motors of Ottawa at the NAC Gala featuring Diana Ross, held at the downtown arts centre on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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Lynn Shabinsky with her husband, Mark Shabinsky, president of Glenview Management Ltd., at the NAC Gala featuring Diana Ross, held at the downtown arts centre on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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Retired CBC journalist Don Newman, now with Ensight Canada, and his wife, Shannon Day-Newman, at the NAC Gala featuring Diana Ross, held at the downtown arts centre on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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CPAC president and general manager Catherine Cano with Quebecor's Serge Sasseville, who's also CPAC's board chair, at the NAC Gala featuring Diana Ross, held at the National Arts Centre on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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Whitney Fox and her husband, Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg, on the red carpet at the NAC Gala that raised $781,000 for the NAC's National Youth and Education Trust. Photo by Caroline Phillips . Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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From left, Mayor Jim Watson with NAC Foundation board member Susan Peterson D'Aquino and her husband, Tom D'Aquino, at the NAC Gala held Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018, at the NAC. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Tim Saunders, executive vice president and CFO at Canopy Growth, and his wife, Janice Saunders, with their dinner table host Marilyn Wilson of Marilyn Wilson Dream Properties, and her daughter, Reba, and husband, Dr. Allan Wilson, at the NAC Gala held Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018, at the NAC. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez with his wife, Roxane Hardy, at the NAC Gala held Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018, at the NAC. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Dennis Laurin, president of Laurin General Contractor, and his wife, Andrea, who looked dazzling in her sequin red pants at the NAC Gala featuring Diana Ross, held at the downtown arts centre on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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NAC donor Barbara Crook, centre, is joined by her sister Diane Crook, right, and Tara Shields at the NAC Gala held Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018, at the NAC. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Rudi Asseer, CEO of Ottawa-based IMI, with his wife, Kyla Martin, on the red carpet  at the NAC Gala held Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018, at the NAC. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Partygoers dance to live music during the pre-concert reception held at the NAC Gala on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips

— caroline@obj.ca