Good Black News has been honoring Stevie Wonder‘s 70th birthday with posts and playlists all month long (links below). On this last day of May and in light of this past week’s events, GBN finds it only fitting to close out our celebration with some of the most powerful, enduring, soul-stirring music Stevie’s ever created and offered to this world – his protest music.
From “Living For The City” to “Big Brother” to “Black Man” to “Love’s In Need of Love Today” to “Happy Birthday” to “Pastime Paradise” – even his early covers of “Blowin’ in The Wind” and “A Place In The Sun” – Stevie Wonder has always used his artistry to protest racism and injustice while striving for healing, equity, love and “Higher Ground.”
Thank you, Stevie Wonder for using your heart, mind and genius to speak for the voiceless and fight on behalf of the oppressed. May your music continue to help fortify us for the long journey ahead:
Earlier this month, the city of Cleveland agreed to pay a combined $18 million to Rickey Jackson, Wiley Bridgeman and his brother Kwame Ajamu, three men who spent decades in prison for a 1975 killing they did not commit, according to cleveland.com.
The trio reached this settlement during an 12-hour mediation held by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, and will end the lawsuits each man filed for the time they spent behind bars.
The men, now in their 60s, were convicted of murder in 1975 for the shooting of money order collector Harold Franks at what was then the Fairmont Cut Rate Store on the city’s East Side. The trio maintained their innocence and were cleared in 2014.
Jackson had served 39 years in prison and was believed at the time to have served the longest amount of time behind bars of anyone wrongfully convicted of a crime.
Ajamu, with tears frequently streaming down his face, said they were accepting the settlement because “we now know that you have no other reason and no other recourse but to tell the world that you wronged three little black boys 45 years ago.”
While thanking his lawyers Terry Gilbert and Jacqueline Greene of Friedman & Gilbert, Ajamu expressed gratitude but did not downplay the long fight he, his brother and friend undertook to clear their names.
“Money cannot buy freedom and money certainly does not make innocence,” said Ajamu, who in addition to Gilbert and Greene was also represented by attorney David Mills.
A jury in August 1975 found Jackson, Bridgeman and Ajamu, then known as Ronnie Bridgeman, guilty of murdering Franks. They were also convicted of trying to kill store owner Anna Robinson. Cuyahoga County prosecutors relied on the eyewitness testimony of young Eddie Vernon to prove their case.
A judge sentenced the men to death, though the sentences were reduced to life in 1978 when the state enacted a short-lived moratorium on the death penalty.
Nearly 40 years later, Vernon recanted his testimony and judges overturned the men’s criminal convictions. Vernon, who was 12 years old when Franks was killed, said in 2014 that city detectives pressured him to lie on the witness stand, which included threats to jail his parents, and that police manipulated him.
Bridgeman, 65, and Jackson, 63, were released in 2014 with the help of the Ohio Innocence Project, which obtained Vernon’s recantation. Ajamu, 62, was paroled in 2003. The story of the murder and the work done to secure their freedom was chronicled in a book called “Good Kids, Bad City” written by Kyle Swenson, now a reporter for The Washington Post who covered the case for the alternative weekly Cleveland Scene.
According to espn.com, Vanderbilt Universityrecently announced that Candice Storey Lee, a former standout student-athlete and three-time Vanderbilt graduate, has been named Vice Chancellor for Athletics and University Affairs and Athletic Director at Vanderbilt after serving in the role on a temporarily since February 2020.
Lee is Vanderbilt’s first female athletic director and the first African American woman to head a Southeastern Conference (SEC) athletics program. The permanent hire places her in the top tier of college athletics as one of only five women currently leading a “Power 5” program.
“Candice is perfectly positioned to lead our athletics program to new heights of success on and off the field of play. She has the drive, creativity and perseverance to help elevate our student-athletes and the entire Vanderbilt Athletics program,” said Incoming Vanderbilt Chancellor Daniel Diermeier.
Lee has served as an integral leader at the university and in Athletics for almost 20 years. Prior to becoming interim athletic director, she served as deputy athletic director, a role she was appointed to in 2016. Lee was also a captain on Vanderbilt’s women’s basketball team, graduating in 2000.
“It’s really interesting and humbling to hear words like pioneer and trailblazer, and I appreciate that. I know it’s significant, and it just reminds me of the responsibility that lies ahead,” Lee said on Freddie and Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio on Thursday night. “I want to do a great job for all the people that I’m working with and for, but I also want to make sure that I’m not a deterrent when there are other opportunities presented to other people of color and other women and other people who are deserving of opportunities.
“There are a lot of people out there that just need a chance, and so if part of this can mean that there are more opportunities to come for others? I’m really excited about that.”
With today’s playlist, from our month of playlists devoted to Stevie Wonder in honor of his 70th birthday, we take the same approach to Stevie’s 1972 watershed album, “Talking Book.” “Talking Book” is at the front end of Stevie’s period of immense creativity in the 1970s.
Still in his early 20s, and having won creative freedom over his work in his newest Motown contract, he created a multi-textured album filled with funk rhythms, smooth soul, and swinging pop – all merged together into one genius record that still sounds great today. (To hear NPR’s “Story of Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book” segment, click here.)
The album kicks off with the elegant “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” – which has become Stevie’s most-covered song, with over 250 versions recorded by other artists through the years according to SecondHandSongs.com (a website devoted to cover songs).
Many of those versions are similar. As evidence of Stevie’s complete crossover popularity by that point in his career, ‘Sunshine’ actually became an easy listening staple, performed by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Johnny Mathis to Liza Minnelli – and also by Jim Nabors, Vicki Lawrence, Brigitte Bardot and Englebert Humperdinck.
Opening with alternative rocker Jack White‘s version of that standard, our goal is to give you a playlist that feels both familiar to your memories of the original album, but also stretches musically to a few new places.
We’ve mixed in rock, easy listening, funk, dance, a cappella, jazz, Brazilian by artists as diverse as Macy Gray, Rufus, Michael Bublé and Sergio Mendes. We’ve placed the songs in their original album order, and have limited each song to one version – and each covering artist to only one track.
The list concludes with one of the newest Stevie Wonder covers – actress Da’Vine Joy Randolph beautifully covers “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” for the soundtrack to “High Fidelity,” the new Hulu series in which she co-stars. Set around the vinyl-obsessed employees of a small independent record store, the choice to cover Stevie circa 2020 demonstrates that the music faithful still remain true believers in the sounds of Mr. Wonder.
As Good Black News continues its month-long tribute to Stevie Wonder in his 70th year on planet Earth, Marlon West has compiled a new Spotify playlist celebrating the times Wonder has graciously and successfully shared the spotlight with other artists.
Although Wonder’s collaborative skills are most famously remembered from the 1986 Grammy-winning chart topper “That’s What Friends Are For” with Dionne Warwick, Elton John and Gladys Knight that raised over $3 million dollars for AIDS research and prevention, he’s been at it for decades with a wide variety of artists and in the name of so many worthy causes and ideas.
This playlist ranges from Stevie’s work with the Queen of the Beyhive (Beyoncé) on a heartfelt Luther Vandross tribute, to his duet with a former Beatle (Paul McCartney) to confront racism, a reworking one of his best-loved love songs with a Canadian diva (Celine Dion), to a loving back-and-forth with his first-born daughter (Aisha Morris, who famously made her debut on 1976’s “Isn’t She Lovely” when still a baby).
In Marlon’s words:
Hello and Happy Monday, you all! Stevie Wonder is one if the most distinctive and prolific voices in popular music. He is a singer, composer, and multi-instrumentalist.
The brotha is one of greatest solo artists and bandleaders of our times. That said, Stevie Wonder has made many collaborations with other artists. He’s done duets, been a guest artist, and even a session musician one dozens of records. This playlist is devoted to Stevie Wonder’s duets. Do enjoy!
Ever since this writer was elementary school age and first becoming aware of music, I’ve been obsessed with the artistic connections created by “cover” versions (“remakes,” in layman’s terms).
My father and I would routinely spend a Saturday night pairing together interesting playlists for each other comprised of original versions and their remakes, usually trying to find versions as far apart musically from the originals as possible.
Several decades ago, this was very labor intensive – we had to go ‘digging in the crates’ through our own vinyl, and we had to actually know and remember that the cover version had been done. Piecing it all together was half the fun.
Today, with Spotify and the internet, it’s much much easier to uncover covers. Just type in the song name and often you’ll find hundreds of options to pick from, especially when we’re talking about Stevie Wonder, who has literally had thousands of remakes done of his songs.
So many versions, in fact, that it’s impossible to weed through them all. (According to SecondHandSongs.com, a website devoted to ‘cover’ songs, Stevie is the most covered R&B artist of all time.)
So with today’s Stevie Wonder playlist from GBN, I’ve limited myself to covers of songs from his landmark 1976 double album “Songs in the Key of Life.” “Songs in the Key of Life” capped a prolific mid-1970s golden era for Stevie Wonder, winning him a remarkable third Grammy for Album of the Year – all three of his wins coming in just four years! Many lists feature “Songs” as one of the best albums of all-time.
You may ask – why should I listen to cover versions when the originals are so perfect? I certainly won’t argue with the originals’ perfection. And I don’t think that any of the artists here would argue either that their version supersedes Stevie’s own.
What I would say is that cover versions can do several things. First, they evoke the true songwriting abilities underlying the original song – a great ‘song’ should be able to stand up to multiple interpretations.
Second, when the cover version is in a different genre (and these are the most interesting ones, usually) – they can bring the listener to new places musically that they may not have ventured before. Third, after hearing an iconic album so many times that it becomes almost second nature, it can be refreshing to hear it again in a new way.
In this playlist, we’ve got the entire ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ song list, in the same order as the original – with the four ‘bonus tracks’ from the extra single included in the original release added to the end.
Each song has only one extra version – and each covering artist is limited to just one track. The mix spans jazz, folk, rock, Latin, soul, dance music and many more, including Luther Vandross, Thelma Houston, Najee, Mary J. Blige and James Taylor‘s brother Livingston Taylor. There’s even a Spice Girl in there if you look for her!
It’s no secret how much the Good Black News team loves and reveres Stevie Wonder, as we have been celebrating him throughout May with various tributes, posts and playlists on the main page and across our social media.
But today, on May 13, Stevie Wonder’s actual birthday, we want to offer you links to all things Stevie, like his official website, Instagram (which is playing Stevie music live all day!) and Twitter, the biography written about him, as well as the Wikipedia and Biography entries that encapsulate the his life and career in words and video.
But really, to know Stevie all you have to do is listen to his music, especially the songs that comprise the majority of his offerings to this world – album tracks never released as singles – aka Stevie Wonder’s Deep Cuts.
Our newest playlist is comprised solely of these songs, and arguably they are as moving and meaningful as his tunes that topped the charts.
In fact, many of these songs (“You and I,” “Too High,” “Bird of Beauty,” “Love’s In Need of Love Today,” “Rocket Love”) are more popular with Stevie stans than many of his global hits.
They are sequenced in chronological order (like our companion playlist of chart releases and hits “The Age of Wonder”) so the listener can hear the evolution of Stevie Wonder’s writing, production and sound. Enjoy – and Happy Birthday, Stevie! We love you!
Nicholas Johnson from Montreal, Canada, has been named valedictorian of Princeton’s Class of 2020, according to princeton.edu. becoming the first black person to earn that academic honor since Princeton was founded in 1746.
Princeton will hold a virtual commencement for the Class of 2020 on Sunday, May 31, 2020, in which Johnson will participate. An in-person ceremony will be held in May 2021.
Johnson said he appreciates the encouragement he has received at Princeton in developing his academic interests. The University’s support through opportunities including international internships and cultural immersion trips to Peru, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom were especially significant, Johnson said. But most of all, he treasures his relationships with his classmates.
“My favorite memories of my time at Princeton are memories of time spent with close friends and classmates engaging in stimulating discussions — often late at night — about our beliefs, the cultures and environments in which we were raised, the state of the world, and how we plan on contributing positively to it in our own unique way,” Johnson said.
Johnson plans to spend this summer interning as a hybrid quantitative researcher and software developer at the D. E. Shaw Group before beginning Ph.D. studies in operations research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in fall 2020.
His research has focused primarily on sequential decision-making under uncertainty, optimization, and the ethical considerations that must be made given the increasing role of algorithmic decision-making systems.
His senior thesis, “Sequential Stochastic Network Structure Optimization with Applications to Addressing Canada’s Obesity Epidemic,” focuses on developing high-performance, efficient algorithms to solve a network-based optimization problem that models a community-based preventative health intervention designed to curb the prevalence of obesity in Canada.
In addition to serving as a writing fellow at Princeton’s Writing Center, Johnson is editor of Tortoise: A Journal of Writing Pedagogy. He is also a member of the Princeton chapter of Engineers Without Borders and served as its co-president in 2018.
As a rising senior, Johnson worked as a software engineer in machine learning at Google’s California headquarters.
He previously interned at Oxford University’s Integrative Computational Biology and Machine Learning Group, developing and implementing a novel optimization technique. He presented the project at Princeton’s inaugural Day of Optimization in October 2018 and at the 25th Conference of African American Researchers in the Mathematical Sciences in June 2019, where his project was recognized with the Angela E. Grant Poster Award for Best Modeling.
Stevie Wonder told us with his very first hit, ‘Fingertips,’ recorded when he was 12, that he was a harmonica master. Somehow, through all the genius songwriting, singing, production and keyboard innovation, we tend to forget about those harmonica skills.
But Stevie hasn’t.
His unmistakable harmonica blowing is right there, easy to find in such Stevie favorites throughout his career including ‘I Was Made to Love Her,’ ‘Isn’t She Lovely,’ ‘For Once In My Life,’ ‘That Girl,’ ‘We Can Work It Out,’ ‘Boogie On Reggae Woman,’ and even 1990s gems like ‘Treat Myself.’
Although he does play that Hohner Chromonica often on his own records, Wonder actually seems to utilize his harmonica skills most frequently as a means to collaborate with other artists.
From the 1960s to today, he’s played harmonica as a guest session man on over 150 songs from other artists. That’s more than 10 whole albums worth of additional Stevie-infused material!
You’ll find a few famous hits – Chaka Khan’s ‘I Feel For You,’ Elton John’s ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues,’ Sting’s ‘Brand New Day,’ R&B classics from DeBarge’s ‘Love Me In A Special Way’ to Jermaine Jackson’s smash ‘Let’s Get Serious’ (which Stevie also wrote and produced). And one of my personal favorites, the Eurythmics #1 UK hit ‘There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart).’
And though he hasn’t released a full album of new work since 2005, Stevie Wonder has stayed relevant to the charts through these harmonica-based collabos. That’s Stevie’s harmonica on Drake’s ‘Take Care’ album – the #1 album of 2012.
He appears twice on the Mark Ronson 2015 album that contained the #1 song of that year, “Uptown Funk.” And just last year, that was Stevie’s harmonica again on rapper Travis Scott’s chart-topping album “AstroWorld.”
But going on Stevie Wonder’s harmonica journey through music takes you to more than just the top of the charts. One of the special things about being Stevie – a sonic force for nearly 60 years – is his wide-ranging love of music across all genres and generations, and his ability to play with all those people.
While many associate the harmonica mostly with blues and folk sounds, Stevie takes the instrument to new places. To be expected, his harmonica is present in the work of his Motown compatriots from the Supremes to the Temptations to Smokey Robinson.
But he’s also played with the finest in rock music (Paul McCartney, James Taylor), popular standards (Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett), world music (Sergio Mendes, Djavan), jazz (Robert Glasper, Herbie Hancock, Dizzy Gillespie), pop (NSync, 98 Degrees, Mariah Carey), hip hop (Drake, Snoop Dogg) and gospel (BeBe Winans, Andrae Crouch). (Stevie, of course, has also ventured into Broadway, but the version of Rent’s ‘Seasons of Love’ with his contributions isn’t available on Spotify. But you can hear it here.)
The list closes with another personal favorite, this one from Stevie’s own catalog – his harmonica infused take on the classical holiday piece ‘Ave Maria’ – written in 1825 and sung primarily by opera singers through the centuries.
The 45-second harmonica solo here is simple and majestic, and completely at home within a classical music space, something I think only Stevie Wonder could achieve with this instrument.
Come take a ride on Stevie’s harmonica highway – and listen out for that unmistakable sound. As with most musical adventures, we hope you will find something unexpectedly nice along with way.
Special thank you – assembling this playlist wouldn’t have been easily possible without the massive amounts of information on the fan website www.steviewonder.org.uk .