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Sophie Trudeau with Diana Ross at NAC Gala on Oct. 3, 2018.ERNESTO DiSTEFANO

Diana Ross bursts onto the stage in a confection of seafoam tulle draped over slinky sparkles of emerald green, and her presence leaves me awash in childhood memories.

She is singing I’m coming Out, the gay anthem that has heralded her arrival at almost every show she has performed for the past 38 years. The older and heavily sequined audience comes alive when the National Arts Centre Orchestra’s opening bars signal that the diva with the honeyed voice is about to launch into a songbook they know by heart.

And, when it comes, Ms. Ross’s voice at the annual NAC Gala is spectacular. Not spectacular for a 74-year-old. It is spectacular, full stop. It is strong and clear and swirled with emotion. And when she reaches for the upper vibrato, it does not fail her.

But for me, it is the colour that startles.

I have never seen Diana Ross in person. I have never been to watch one of her Vegas shows. And yes, I did see Mahogany and Lady Sings the Blues when I was a teenager. But she was a character in those films.

My memories of the real person that is Diana Ross are all in black and white.

In them, she has hair that has been sprayed into a huge immovable shell and she is singing in a floor-length gown with two women swaying and filling in the chorus behind her. She is on the small screen of the boxy television in our family room of white-bread Burlington, Ont., and it is Sunday night.

Diana Ross and The Supremes played The Ed Sullivan Show 17 times.

When they first appeared in 1964, they were like nothing my mother – and more particularly, my grandmother – had ever seen.

My mom and my grandma were scandalized by the grinding of Elvis’s hips. They rolled their eyes at the screaming, fainting throng of girls who threw themselves at the Beatles.

But The Supremes were something else entirely. They were three young black women. Diana Ross could really sing. And she sang songs that they liked, infectious songs they hummed along to as they went about their daily lives.

My mother had listened to black performers before Ms. Ross. She was a fan of Nat King Cole and of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. But The Supremes opened the door to a new generation of music, a new beat, for a woman whose musical tastes were rooted in the big-band era.

To me, the songs were magical. They still are.

“Do you remember this one?” Ms. Ross asks coyly on the Ottawa stage before launching into Touch Me in The Morning.

Yes. Yes I do. And Baby Love, and More Today Than Yesterday, and Where Did Our Love Go, and Stop, In The Name Of Love, and Some Day We’ll Be Together, and You Can’t Hurry Love.

I also remember the later pieces – If We Hold On Together, The Theme From Mahogany, Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand, and even the saccharine Endless Love, which Ms. Ross said she normally performs as a duet but turned into a stellar solo.

Befitting her status as glamour queen (and possible playing into the fact that she is a favourite of drag queens) were three different costume changes. After the green lame, she went to silky rose and grey, then to shimmering gold, and finally to a ball gown of sapphire blue.

Her on-stage demeanor was almost childlike. There were a few giggles, a few jumps up and down, and she constantly swiped a stray hand at her massive swath of hair.

But her voice was mature and rounded and forceful.

And the people at the gala, which raises money for young performers, loved her. At several points, she stopped mid-song and turned the mic to capture the singing crowd.

The high point of the evening was Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, which Ms. Ross saved for the end and sang backed by the Academy, and Ottawa-based gospel choir. It was a teary, rejoiceful moment.

She has been called the most successful recording artist of all time. The Supremes were the most successful “girl group” in history. They were the top act at Motown. Billboard magazine named Ms. Ross the performer of the century.

There are all sorts of superlatives that can be used to describe her.

I would say she is marvelous in colour.

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