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Diana Ross shows up unannounced at Raiders’ party, and that’s OK

Updated August 7, 2022 - 8:07 pm

CANTON, Ohio — The Raiders turned it upside-down, and inside-out, for Cliff Branch on Saturday night.

Diana Ross was the surprise superstar headliner at the team’s party honoring Branch at Quarry Gold Club. Ross’s performance capped the team’s boffo Pro Football Hall of Fame weekend honoring the late, great receiver.

Ross sang a medley of “I’m Coming Out,” “My World is Empty Without You,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Stop! In The Name of Love,” “Upside Down” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” her cover of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and an encore of “Thank You.”

Singing live to recorded tracks with a pair of backing singers, Ross halted “The Theme From Mahogany” in favor of “Ain’t No Mountain High.”

Ross performed for about 40 minutes for the 400 or so invited VIPs. Marcus Allen, Fred Biletnikoff, Tim Brown, Jim Plunkett, Charles Woodson, Lester Hayes, Ted Hendricks, Art Shell, Mike Haynes, Ron Mix, Dave Casper and Raymond Chester were some of the Raider alumni on the scene. Branch’s sister, Elaine Anderson, was led the family entourage. The great J.T. The Brick (professional handle for Jon emceed

The recording legend was decked out in a red gown and silver belt, often cooling herself with a matching fan for the high humidity in the outdoor venue.

Raiders owner Mark Davis said Branch, whom he consistently reminds was his best friend, was a big fan of Ross. “

We saw Diana perform several times together in Vegas,” the owner said a couple of hours before Ross took the stage.

The owner declined to say how much Ross commanded for the appearance, saying, “What happens in the Raiders locker room, stays in the Raiders locker room.” But industry standard for a Ross appearance at such an event is between $1 million to $1.2 million.

As Ross’s 9:50 p.m. arrival approached, several former stars of other NFL teams showed up at the event. Franco Harris, Jim Kelly, Warren Moon, Bruce Smith and Richard Dent were among the retired legends who made it in time for Ross’s performance.

I even ran into our old buddy and media star Rich Eisen of NFL Network in the mix. This was the Cool Hang Alert of the year in Canton.

David Perrico and the Raiders House Band performed through the night, including a set from ex-Raiders great Henry Lawrence, one of just six members of the franchise who played in all three of the team’s Super Bowls. Lawrence is known as “The Killer,” from his playing days. The nickname has carried through to his singing career. He was a master front man in the Perrico band.

Lawrence capped his appearance by blasting “Sweet Home Chicago.” But it was also sweet home Canton, Las Vegas, Oakland and L.A. for all the folks celebrating the history of the Silver and Black.

Allen scores

Two became very close during their Raiders days, Branch was Allen’s roommate. I had a roommate that I looked to, on my right, who always, unyieldingly, encouraged me,” Allen said from the stage. “Today’s kind of bittersweet for me. I’m very, very, very happy and thrilled that Cliff is in the Hall of Fame, finally. But I’m really disappointed that it didn’t happen earlier, where he could have been here to really experience this moment.”

The two were like family. Maybe in fact. Branch and Allen’s father researched their families’ lineage.

“This was after our playing days were over with, ” Allen said, “and Cliff said that we were cousins. I went with that. Because you know what? I love Cliff Branch.”

The groove scene

Anderson was up, out and dancing to Perrico’s band several times in the night. So were Bruce Smith and Ray Chester. “The Raiders are like a family. It sounds like a cliche, but it starts at the top,” Chester said. “Other teams could learn a lot from the Raiders.”

Late into the party I was at edge of the dance floor, and a guy in a Bills cap walked over. The band started with AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long,” and called out, “THAT’s what you came for!”

I shouted a rundown of the musicians’ history in Vegas, and he was duly impressed. I noticed then he was Jim Kelly, a Buffalo Bill for all time having a night of it.

He loves a parade

A black Cadillac Escalade pulled up to a police barrier on Saturday morning, just before the Grand Parade in downtown Canton. The event, replete with giant inflatables and many marching bands, celebrates the Hall of Fame weekend each year.

The rear passenger window in the black rig rolled down, and someone inside shouted, “We can’t get through!” It was Davis, trying to reach the start of the parade.

“You’re stuck. You can’t cross Cleveland, ” I said (note to visitors, Cleveland Avenue in downtown Canton is CLOSED on the day of the parade). “But you are close. The starting point is just past these barriers.”

Davis answered, “I hope so! I’m supposed to be in it!”

David and Anderson did make their call time. They rode together in a dark-green Jeep Wrangler. The owner waved and said, “Cliff would be happy! It’s a big day for Raider nation!” It was the third of four such days in Canton.

Catch this one

Biletnikoff said he’s returning the Biletnikoff Foundation fundraising gala (which is actually a crabfest) to Paris Las Vegas this year. Look for it Dec. 16. The Foundation celebrated its first event in Las Vegas in October. The organization raises funds and awareness for domestic violence, and honors the memory of the couple’s daughter, Tracey Biletnikoff, who was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1999. Go to Biletnikoff.org to support.

The Carol shopping network

Davis’s mother and the First Lady of Raider Nation, Carol Davis, went on a shopping spree at the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. She bought the shop’s entire inventory of Raiders’ stocking caps. The only formal explanation is, she was feeling “Raider love.”

Cool Hang Alert

Pepe Jimenez Quartet, led by the drummer in the Perrico band, plays Gatsby’s Supper Club at the Gambit in Henderson at 8 p.m. (doors at 6 p.m.) Wednesday night. Steven Lee on guitar, Bill Zappia on keys and John Belzaguy on bass. A $30 F&B minimum, per-person, makes this a real dinner-and-show experience. These guys won’t disappoint. Go to gambighenderson.com for info.


John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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