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.

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

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“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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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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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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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 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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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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— caroline@obj.ca

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