I Will Survive

It was a live and silent auction for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kansas City, of course I wanted to go when asked. The table had been purchased, I knew a couple of the other guests and would be happy to meet the other tablemates who would not be there if they didn’t have a heart for this program as well. Then I found out . . . Diana Ross was the headliner for the entertainment! YES! THEEEEE Diana Ross . . . of the Supremes, even a little before my time, and of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough; Reach Out and Touch; I Will Survive; and of course, Stop! In the Name of Love;” you should see my version of the choreography for that one. We all have it, right?!? Automatically one of our arms goes out straight in front of us, palm up, for the “Stop!”, and then with our arms remaining straight and palms up, we arc our arm to the left or to the right bouncing them on the beat, as we sing, “In the name of love . . . before you break my heart, think it o-o-o-ver . . . think it o-o-ver.” Oh my gosh, does it get any better than that???

My tablemates and I wondered what kind of shape she would be in. I mean seriously, we figured she must be over 70. In fact, we found out she just turned 75 in late March, less than a month ago! What kind of voice would she have? What kind of presence? Would it be one of those sad things about how life used to be? And then I looked around the room. We were all either well over 50, so would certainly remember her in her “hey-day” but probably not the get-up-and-dance type in our dress-up clothes. The rest of the crowd was certainly under 40. In fact, 4 of the 9 people at our table were under 35. How would a generation for whom Diana Ross is more of a relic than a rockstar respond to an artist singing hit songs from 30-40-50 years ago – before some of them were even born?

The band began to play, they sang some kind of chorus, and then from behind the curtain at the crescendo of the music out came the Diana Ross from the 1980’s – her hair crimped and dark, not one gray highlight! She’s wearing a form-fitting sparkly, red dress, perhaps a few extra inches here and there, I could only wish that few even now, from 40 years ago! And then she started to sing. Not one weak note, not one off-key-trying-to-slide-up-to-it, not one lack of volume or breath support or slight break in self-confidence! This woman was amazing! And do you know what happened?!? She electrified a room full of Midwesterners beyond prediction. After the first song people were standing at their chairs dancing and clapping, at the start of the second song, the masses began to pour toward the stage! Not. Even. Kidding! And the younger generation led the way! Our two under 35’s left the table to join the ocean of folks 30 or 40 deep at the front and surrounding the stage with their arms in the air and bouncing and dancing. It was so spontaneous we all simply looked at each other and shook our heads. Who’d-a thought?!?

Even Diana and her band were surprised. After the 3rd song she stopped and talked with her lead guitar for several minutes with her back to the crowd, turned back around, and said they’d changed the program because they didn’t realize the response would be like this and she wanted to do the rock songs rather than the ballads. And she rocked the house. I played a little air-piano at my seat and then sang, with her, into my air mic that finally had to turn into my fork, mostly licked clean, because I simply had to have a mic to sing those songs of my youth! She even had a costume change in the middle and came back out with the most gorgeous bluish-PURPLE gown. She probly only sang 45 minutes, but it was one song right after another – her energy level quite astounded everyone there I think. And the crowd in front of the stage singing and dancing and clapping never thinned until she was done, after an encore, of course.

I’m not enough of a fan to know what this woman’s life has been like. I don’t know what battles she’s fought, what relationships she’s had that have worked and have not so much. One of the table members knew she has a daughter that plays on a t.v. show, but I don’t know if she has other children and what kind of relationship she has with them and what struggles they may have had growing up during racial tensions with a famous mom who travelled more than not perhaps.

What I do know is that at 75 years, she’s still singing and, while not doing it for free by a long shot, I’m guessing the money isn’t the driving force. Why would she come to Kansas City to a Convention Center for a Live and Silent Auction? It’s not a tour stop where she was the headliner, not the Kennedy Center Honors for her lifetime of work, not the Grammy’s, not even Las Vegas – a fundraiser in the heartland of America, not exactly the bastion of entertainment or diversity. What seems clear is a commitment she has to the Boys and Girls Clubs that reaches out to those in great need regardless of skin color or circumstance. It is one of the organizations she evidently believes can lift kids up from difficult places and offer opportunities for a future with unlimited potential.

I think she was as surprised by us as we were by her. I’m guessing her expectation of response from the crowd was not the highest. We were, in large part, Caucasian, dressed in “cocktail” garb, had just been through the “live auction” part of the evening with the Nigro brothers, and had shared a nice meal of beef and chicken with iced tea, water, and an open bar. Probably not the normative concert-going audience at Sprint Center. Yet there we all were on a random Friday night to raise money for an organization focused on kids in need and somehow it worked. Somehow her presence and music inspired the audience and the energy and responsiveness of the audience inspired her.

What do I take from that into this Holy Week? That miracles still happen? O.k. That I hope I have half that energy and look half that good when I’m 75? Absolutely. That there are certain voices and lives that seem to transcend time and generation and boundaries that in other parts of life are nothing but limiting? I think so. That music is a universal language? Of course. And maybe that the surprising gift of new life in unexpected places and unexpected times from unexpected voices is yet true? Yes!!!

I’m including a short video I took toward the end of her program. I didn’t realize at the time that it would be the perfect song for a pastor during Holy Week – but God has a great sense of humor and timing I think. snort And then I’ll include a video from 1996 when she originally came out with her version of this song. Maybe it’s another way to say what God says for us through this most Holy of Weeks!