In 1973, Olivia Newton-John performed in Grand Forks; she sang one song, then was encouraged to play it again
"It's a wonderful memory from 49 years ago," said Scott Williams, who, in August 1973, was starting his junior year at UND. "We saw a talent that was, obviously, just at the very start."
GRAND FORKS – Scott Williams remembers when, as a UND student in August 1973, he was in the audience that saw singer Olivia Newton-John perform at the Chester Fritz Auditorium.
He’s been thinking about that show – the impression she made and her remarkable career – since hearing about her death earlier this month.
“As I recall, she was a newcomer to America,” traveling with a musical revue, Williams said. “We walked in and got seats within the first few rows. She was not well-known back then, so there were not many in the audience.”
Williams, who was starting his junior year at UND, said he and his friends “really didn’t know what to expect,” but, that day, they – and the rest of the audience – witnessed a star in the making.
Newton-John was the last act in the show.
“She came out on stage with her band,” Williams remembers, and sang “Let Me Be There,” which had not yet been released. She wowed the crowd.
“When she was done, we were thrilled and gave her a standing ovation,” he said. “We continued to whistle and clap after she left the stage. Finally she returned to the stage and said she only had the one song, but would sing it again. When she finished, we gave her another standing ovation.”
Williams, who earned undergraduate and law degrees at UND, recently discovered – while trying to piece things together related events of the past – that her song, “Let Me Be There,” was released in September 1973.
“She went on to win a Grammy for the best female country vocal performance for that song and thereafter (became) a superstar,” he said. “But we discovered her at the Chester Fritz in Grand Forks before the rest of the world.”
Newton-John died Aug. 8 at age 73, succumbing to a third bout with breast cancer. She may be best-known for her starring role alongside John Travolta in the film “Grease,” in which she, as the female lead Sandy Olsson, sang “You’re the One That I Want” – one of the best-selling singles of all times – and “Summer Nights.”
Her song "Hopeless Devoted to You" is especially memorable during a slumber party scene in the movie. The song reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Her solo recordings include the Record of the Year Grammy winner “I Honestly Love You” and “Physical.” The British-Australian actress, singer and activist produced other hit singles, including “If Not for You” and “Have You Never Been Mellow”.
Eleven of her singles and 14 of her albums have been certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America. With global sales of more than 100 million records, Newton-John, a four-time Grammy winner, is one of the best-selling music artists from the second half of the 20th century to date.
Newton-John, an advocate for breast cancer research, also was an activist for environmental and animal rights causes.
Williams, who is retired and living in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, has fond memories of Newton-John’s performance in 1973 on the UND campus. He recalls it as a “remarkable event” at the Chester Fritz Auditorium.
“It’s a wonderful memory from 49 years ago,” he recalled. “It was just amazing how that song – and she – came across that day.
“We, there at Chester Fritz in Grand Forks – saw a talent that was, obviously, just at the very start. And then to see what developed over 49 years, I mean, it was just amazing.”