Last week was for me the week of all weeks, with Madonna and Dolly concerts within a 24- hour period. Imagine my disbelief when my pal Troy called inviting me to join him at Radio City on Sunday afternoon for a benefit featuring Miss Gladys Knight... I was thrilled because I love me some Gladys. But Gladys wasn't the only one on the bill. How about adding Chaka to the list? Now how about adding Andy Cohen Fave Miss Patti... Now how about tipping it into insanity with not just Gladys, Chaka and Patti... ...And throwing Miss Ross onto the bill. The idea of those four women on the same bill begged so many questions, namely what charity could bring these ladies together and in what order would they appear. I also wondered and decided, maybe just to protect myself, that there was no way Diana would actually show. It couldn't be possible to see Madonna, Dolly and Diana in five days.
Indeed when I arrived at Radio City to meet Troy and his son Jonah, I saw Diana's name on the marquee and believed for the first time that she would be on the stage in tandem with her sisters. There were two shows yesterday and we were at the 2:30 afternoon show, which was weird in itself. It was called "Divas With a Heart" and they played several videos about the medical charity we were all supporting. Had I paid attention to those videos, I might be able to share some info with you. I did not. The curtain rose and there sat at least a 50 person orchestra, so whoever was behind the charity not only had connections to get the ladies but very deep pockets. Troy said he saw Ted Turner and Gerald Levin in the lobby so... I dunno. I was in deep speculation about who would appear in what order, and all was quickly revealed when Gladys was announced as our first diva. Let me just tell you that Gladys immediately and forcefully brought the house down! Gladys Christ Superstar!
She looked like a million dollar bill in a purple dress, sounded like Gladys in her prime, and ran through her hits with a huge smile, a ton of groove, and much humor. My camera started to lose its battery at the top of the show so I decided to save all my juice for Diana, but here's a taste of Gladys:
She won our hearts with her confession that in all her career she'd never once played Radio City, so she was savoring every moment. In her intro's to each classic song she would say "thank you for making this one a big hit" or "thanks for giving me this one..", which I loved. When she finally rolled into "Midnight Train to Georgia" the crowd was in a hysteric standing and dancing stupor. At 3:30 in the afternoon no less!
Chaka was next, which I figured, and she was working a purple pantsuit to death, and working her hits like "I Feel For You," "Ain't Nobody" "Through the Fire," and "I'm Every Woman". Would you believe that her favorite song is "To Sir With Love" and she sang it as though it were her own? She was fantastic. The voice! (I wish I'd taken a picture of the purple pantsuit but I was too freaked about not having batteries for Diana.) At some point between acts someone announced that there was a Steinway onstage being auctioned for charity that was "signed by most of the divas." Who the F DIDN'T sign it is what I want to know. I have an idea, but... After an intermission, Patti was next. I have seen Miss Patti in concert more times than I can count because you won't find a more engaging live performer. She was all about her sisters and love and emotion and very Patti. At one point she was reflecting on Gladys and Chaka's set lists and said "I don't have hit records but when you come to see me over and over, you make me feel like I do." It was sweet and it's true.
Patti sang the shit out of her catalogue and near the end of her set came a rousing "Lady Marmalade" featuring a reunited LaBelle, and her 'girls' Sarah Nash and Nona Hyndryx. It was a moment. Patti says the original girlgroup is back together and recording an album featuring Nile Rodgers and Lenny Kravitz. BOOK IT, MISS PATTI! Patti ended her set singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" backed by the full orchestra. It was a Radio City Spectacular.
By 5:30, Patti and the other two full throttle mini concerts had the crowd so fired that I was actually getting worried about what Miss Ross could do to top her co-stars and earn her top billing. As a fanfair fit for the Pope erupted from the orchestra, I wondered how I could lose faith in the lady who always makes an entrance and is the queen of theatricality.
"I'm...." "Coming..." "Out...". We could hear her voice but we couldn't see her. We knew there was a big entrance in the works, so we looked to the sky, we looked to the stage, and we looked behind us. Bolting from the very back of Radio City came a red chiffon cloud of Diana singing "I'm Coming Out" to thunderous adulation. It was an entrance.
She was the classic performer that she is, and jammed through 15 or so number one anthems with great precision, several costume enhancements (add a boah - lose a boah, new chiffon coat - lose chiffon coat, add a train - lose a train) and she was the only diva to do a full change of dress. Hearing her sing "Endless Love" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" backed by the full orchestra would've been great enough.
She left us and the stage with her classic "If You Need Me, Call Me...".