When Diana Ross takes the stage this weekend in Atlantic City, she will bring a lifetime of iconic musical moments, from her Motown days with the Supremes through her longtime solo career.
But the recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Kennedy Center Honors, France’s Commander in the Order of Arts and Letters and other career kudos isn’t thinking about her place in music history — she just wants to put on a great show.
“I have always felt it’s more important to stay present, to stay in the moment, to stay now,” says Ross, who appears Sunday, Aug. 18, at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City.
“I never try to think about legacy and being remembered. For me, if I could live a good life now, if I could do the things that bring me joy ... that is (what I) love and that is my life.”
What still brings Ross joy at 69 is getting in front of an audience.
“I do what I do ... because I love it,” Ross says in remarks prepared in conjunction with her six-week summer tour.
“Since I was a little girl, I have always loved to sing and perform. The one thing I have never understood is searching for fame. To me, fame is not a career. You do the work that you do. You do what you do because you love it.
“Your career is to share of your God-given gift. That is the thing that makes you happy.”
The highly polished show is very much Ross’ creation, featuring a nine-piece band with horn section, three back-up singers, video footage of famous collaborators from Marvin Gaye to Michael Jackson, and as befitting a pop diva — multiple costume changes.
“I’m involved in the selection of the music and of course my costumes and the lighting and the setting and the interaction between me and the audience,” Ross says. “I have always been interested in the precision of the work, the harmony of what we do.
“It has to all work together. It’s like a piece of music in the sense that it’s harmonious. We are all very professional. Everybody is always on time, always doing their best to present the best to the audience, which I feel we always do.”
The show is meant to please longtime fans, by giving them a sampling of material from her peak recording years of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
The Supremes are well-represented with such tracks as “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Baby Love” and “My World Is Empty Without You.” For her solo work, Ross moves from up tempo hits, such as opener “I’m Coming Out,” “Upside Down” and “Love Hangover,” through ballads like “Touch Me in the Morning” and “Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To).”
She also shows off her jazz chops with “Don’t Explain” from her Oscar-nominated turn as Billie Holiday in “Lady Sings the Blues.”
Among Ross’ personal favorites are the anthems “I Will Survive” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
“Music is like love, it feels good, it’s about sharing, it’s very special,” she says. “Music is like the heartbeat of our world. Every time I do music from the early days ... it just resonates with all audiences. When I’m performing, it becomes like a brand new song.”
The mother of five adult children and grandmother of two also takes on a parental role during her touring.
“When I am performing, I wear many different hats,” Ross says.
“I’m also the producer, the organizer, the parent or mother on the road because I care about everyone, and I want to make sure that they are all well, and I try to take care of them.
“The mothering part of me becomes very much a part of the actual touring.”
Although Ross can still fill large venues, including a sold-out show at the Hollywood Bowl earlier this month, she claims not to care whether she’s playing a stadium or intimate room.
“My attraction is with the audience on a one-to-one basis,” she says. “I always try to see their faces and see their eyes, and I perform and sing to them. It’s never about us and the audience, it’s the harmonious vibration, the good energy that flows back and forth between the audience, myself, the band and the music. It’s a wonderful thing about music.”