Black History Month is an important time to reflect on the rich culture, and celebrate the ways in which African Americans have contributed to our history. In nearly 60 years of hosting events and concerts here at the Rose Quarter, we’ve had the opportunity to host some of the most groundbreaking musicians, bands, thinkers and leaders at our venues. We dug through our concert history, and the Oregonian archives, to find just a handful of some of the most notable names to have visited the Rose Quarter.
James Brown — December 7, 1963
While there doesn’t seem to be a review of the concert James Brown and His Famous Flames performed at Memorial Coliseum on December 7, an article does exist detailing a curious incident that happened the night prior. On the band’s way up the coast from San Francisco to their Friday night show in Seattle, their equipment truck struck a guardrail, spun across the freeway, and “came to rest suspended over the river.” Musical gear and clothing spilled into the Tualatin River, and divers were called to fish it out. No one was injured in the accident, and both their Friday night show in Seattle and Saturday night show at Memorial Coliseum went off without a hitch, and according to the Oregonian writer: “with dry instruments.”
Aretha Franklin — November 1, 1968
Prior to this performance by the Queen of Soul, Portland mayor Terry Schrunk declared November 1st “Aretha Franklin Day,” with much fanfare preceding her arrival in Oregon. The Oregonian‘s reviewer had to leave the concert early to make his deadline, and noted that the beginning of the show was plagued by sound issues, but by the time she performed “Respect,” the “audience had become the most responsive Portland audience I’ve seen” according to once concertgoer. By the time the show wrapped up around 11:30pm with a performance of “We Shall Overcome”, fans crowded around the stage to try to shake her hand.
Diana Ross — October 17, 1983
Miss Ross has only performed solo in Oregon once (she visited with the Supremes in November 1966), at this Memorial Coliseum show in 1983. Curiously enough, during this 1983 tour (the same one from her legendary Central Park performance that was ended by a rainstorm) her backing band was made up of Portland-based jazz musicians, including drummer Mel Brown, bassist Phil Baker, and pianist George Mitchell. The hometown show included sing-alongs in the audience, a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”, guest dancers, and even invited men on stage to show off their muscles while she performed “Muscles” from her album Silk Electric.
Stevie Wonder — June 18, 1986
On June 18th, 1986, Stevie Wonder made his first-ever headlining appearance in Oregon at Memorial Coliseum in front of a sold out crowd. The Oregonian‘s review was glowing — glittering, even — at Wonder’s “explosive power and infectious singing style.” No setlist survives from the night, but Wonder reportedly played some of his biggest hits, from “Higher Ground” to “Living for the City.” According to setlist.fm, Stevie Wonder has only performed one other time in the state of Oregon: August 30, 2007 at Edgefield.
Whitney Houston — October 12, 1987
Whitney Houston’s first performance in Portland was “show-stopping”, according to the above review. The show included a rendition of “Happy Birthday” for her brother and backup singer Gary, who happened to turn 30 years old that night. “But for show-stopping intensity, it was her glorious version of the gospel tune ‘I Believe’ that really hit home. ‘It’s where I come from, it’s where I started,’ she told the crowd of 12,512 before she began the song her mother, gospel singer Cissy Houston, recorded 15 years before.”
The Artist Formerly Known as Prince — September 28, 1997
Prince’s 1997 set at the then Rose Garden was part of his “Jam of the Year Tour”, was by all accounts, a phenomenal performance. “Whether dancing, playing torrid solos on guitar and keyboards and singing in everything from a sweet, falsetto croon to gospelish declarations to passion-dripping squeals, he makes it all look easy: like it’s not a matter of practice or even talent, just some special connection with the God of performance.” The adoring crowd was even treated to an opening act from legendary singer Chaka Khan.
Barack Obama — March 21, 2008
Then Presidential candidate Barack Obama made his first campaign rally stop in Oregon at Memorial Coliseum on March 21, 2008. There, he spoke to the gathered crowd of about 13,000, and received an endorsement from New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. A few months later Obama would return to Portland to give a speech on the waterfront, this time to roughly 75,000 people.
Jay Z — December 14, 2017
Jay Z is one of the most celebrated rappers of all time, as well as a prime example of a prominent voice for good, preeminent entrepreneur, and omnipresent cultural influencer. His first-ever show at the Moda Center was one for the ages. A career-spanning set that included tracks from his legendary albums like The Blueprint, The Black Album, and Reasonable Doubt, Jay paraded around the ever-shifting stage that changed from a flat octagon to a towering pyramid. It was an emphatic reminder of how powerful his music can be, and as hit after hit kept coming, a reminder of his incredible career that has no signs of slowing down.