Category: Podcasts/Audio

GBN’S MERRY MONTH OF STEVIE: Jazz Visions of “Innervisions” (LISTEN)

by Jeff Meier (FB: Jeff.Meier.90)

In earlier Stevie Wonder playlists this month, GBN has featured playlists devoted to cover versions of the songs from “Songs in the Key of Life” and from “Talking Book.”  Today’s playlist, in our month devoted to the music of Stevie Wonder in honor of his 70th birthday, features the music of “Innervisions.”

By 1973, Stevie was already on an impressive streak. Now having complete creative control over his work, both “Music of My Mind” and “Talking Book” from the previous year were tremendously successful both commercially and creatively. “Innervisions” took things to the next level.

Beautiful ballads of love like “Golden Lady” and “All In Love Is Fair” are intertwined with the political commentary of “Living for the City” and “He’s Misstra Know-It-All.”

It was a new kind of soul album and it all worked – kicking off an unprecedented streak of winning Grammy Album of the Year awards for three of his releases in a row.

This covers playlist differs from the other two albums. This time, instead of switching up genres from song to song, we’ve delved deeper into jazz versions of songs from “Innervisions.”

Stevie has been an immensely influential musical force among the jazz community. Jazz musicians are constantly covering Stevie – and many have done tribute albums devoted solely to his compositions (Nnena Freelon, Stanley Turrentine, and Najee to name a few).

Nevertheless, though we’ve confined the playlist to jazz, we’ve tried to mix up jazz styles and instruments, including everything from avant garde vocalists to smooth jazz saxophone.  We hope our Innervisions playlist is a great vehicle to explore jazz styles, from the comfort of already knowing all the twists and turns of the original songs by heart.

Enjoy!

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MUSIC MONDAY: Desert Island Stevie Wonder – What 20 Songs Would You Bring? (LISTEN)

As Good Black News enters the last week in our month-long celebration of Stevie Wonder‘s 70th birthday via posts and playlists, we thought we’d kick it off with something a little different.

In the past few weeks we’ve offered playlists of Wonder’s greatest hits, covers, his phenomenal harmonica work, soundtrack cuts, deep cuts, duets, and even other artists covering his classic 1970s albums “Songs in The Key of Life” and “Talking Book.”

While we still have several more great Stevie-themed playlists to share in the final days of May, today GBN is asking you to join in the fun!

If you were stranded on a desert island and could only bring 20 Stevie Wonder songs with you, what would they be? And why? Please share your own Spotify list or written list in the comments!

GBN contributor Marlon West gamely took up this challenge to pave the playlist path. In Marlon’s words:

“Here’s my last offering/delightful assignment of this monthlong celebration of Stevie Wonder’s 70th Birthday. Twenty Stevie Wonder songs you’d take to a Desert Island. Here’s mine. It is not an “essential” list or a “best of.” This is a collection of 20 songs that have enduring appeal to me personally.

You may notice my list leans heavy on 1980’s “Hotter than July.” It was the record that came out when I was rolling around in my parents’ car as a freshly-minted driver. I wore that cassette tape out. So that record looms large for me.

What’s your list look/sound like? Please share yours in the comments.

June is African American Music Appreciation Month! See ya next week with the first of my four offerings for that month-long tribute.

As usual, stay safe, sane, and kind.”

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(FB: marlon.west1 Twitter: @marlonw IG: stlmarlonwest Spotify: marlonwest)

Marlon West (photo courtesy Marlon West)

GBN’s MERRY MONTH OF STEVIE: Stevie Wonder’s “Talking Book” Speaks Again Through Its Covers (LISTEN)

by Jeff Meier (FB: Jeff.Meier.90)

On a previous post, GBN presented a playlist featuring all cover versions (remakes) from Stevie Wonder‘s legendary album “Songs in the Key of Life.”

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.

Enjoy!

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MUSIC MONDAY: That’s What Friends Are For: Stevie Wonder Duets (LISTEN)

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.

Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney (photo via libraryofcongress.gov)

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!

And as always, stay safe, sane, and kind!

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(FB: marlon.west1 Twitter: @marlonw IG: stlmarlonwest Spotify: marlonwest)

Marlon West (photo courtesy Marlon West)

GBN’s MERRY MONTH OF STEVIE: Cover Songs In The Key Of Life (LISTEN)

by Jeff Meier (FB: Jeff.Meier.90)

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!

We hope you enjoy it.

GirlTrek Brings #DaughtersOf Coretta Scott King and Betty Shabazz Together for 1st-Ever Public Conversation this Friday

On Friday, May 15th, GirlTrek’s #DaughtersOf LIVE discussions continue with Dr. Bernice A. King and Ilyasah Shabazz uniting for a first-ever public conversation on their families’ legacies, debunking the myths that have followed them and sharing the lessons they learned from their legendary mothers Coretta Scott King and Betty Shabazz.

The conversation, starting at 7 p.m. EST via FB LIVE, will be centered around the radical lessons King and Shabazz’s mothers passed down and the generational healing they each experienced that molded them into the fearless women they’ve become.

#DaughtersOf is a multifaceted-initiative to examine the immediate and critical importance of self-care and healing for Black women through the lens of their matrilineal traditions. ​

It is a call for a mass rejuvenation through the sharing of our stories on hope, healing and happiness. Daughters Of will include a gorgeous feature film and videos where Black women call their mothers’ names and share everything from self-care secrets to recipes and stories of healing and thriving. View the trailer below:

“Among the definitions that GirlTrek shares for its name and work is ‘To heal our bodies, inspire our daughters, and reclaim the streets of our neighborhoods.’ I believe that the three-fold purpose within this definition is critical to our holistic health, from our consciences to our communities,” said Dr. Bernice A. King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.

“I join with GirlTrek in fulfilling this purpose by engaging in a #DaughtersOf conversation with my sister-friend, Ilyasah Shabazz. It is my hope that the conversation honors our foremothers, inspires our daughters and encourages those who experience the moment to commit to building the Beloved Community.”

“Black women have turned pain into purpose for generations in this country, and now more than ever we need to look to the past for the lessons that can be applied right now to help us navigate trying times,” said GirlTrek cofounder Vanessa Garrison.

“Our goal with these #DaughtersOf livestreams is to pass on the knowledge and wisdom of the women who came before us and to teach us all how to persevere through trying times, because it is what Black women have always done.”

With more than 650,000 active members and counting, GirlTrek as profiled on CNN, is the largest health movement and nonprofit for Black women and girls in the country.

GirlTrek encourages Black women to use radical self-care and walking as the first practical step to leading healthier, more fulfilled lives. GirlTrek is on a mission to inspire one million Black women to walk in the direction of their healthiest, most fulfilled lives by the end of 2020 and it all starts with taking the pledge at GirlTrek.org.

Happy 70th Birthday To Ya, Stevie Wonder! (LISTEN)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

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.

(In case you missed Jeff Meier‘s The Wonders of Stevie’s Harmonica or Marlon West‘s Stevie Soundtrack Songs and Stevie Cover Songs posts and playlists, treat yourself and click through!)

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!

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MUSIC MONDAY: Stevie Wonder At The Movies (LISTEN)

So many generations have grown up listening to Stevie Wonder that people often refer to his music as “the soundtrack” to their lives.

Though his songs have appeared in countless movies over the decades, Stevie has also done literal soundtrack work during his career, contributing tracks and sometimes full albums worth of original music to over half a dozen movies.

Wonder even won an Original Song Academy Award for “I Just Called To Say I Love You,” his chart-topping hit from the 1984 movie “The Woman in Red.”

As Good Black News continues its month-long tribute to Stevie Wonder as he turns 70, Marlon West has compiled a new Spotify playlist celebrating Wonder’s unique contributions to cinema.

In Marlon’s words:

STEVIE AT THE MOVIES is another playlist devoted to the talent and impact of Stevie Wonder his birthday month of May.

My love of moviemaking and Stevie Wonder’s music resulted in the playlist of his work for films. He’s written and contributed to songs for many movies including “The Outsiders,” “The Last Dragon,” “The Adventures Of Pinocchio” and “Rent.”

He has written and produced motion picture soundtracks for “The Secret Life of Plants,” (the full album title is “Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants”) “The Woman in Red” and “Jungle Fever.”

I have included a few Stevie Wonder “needle drops” from films like “Glory Road,” “Poetic Justice,” “The Thing,” “Dead Presidents,” “Almost Famous,” “High Fidelity,” and others.

I couldn’t resist including “Gangsta’s Paradise” from the Michelle Pfeiffer-starring film “Dangerous Minds,” which of course contains a sample of “Pastime Paradise” from 1976’s “Songs In The Key Of Life.”

As always, stay, sane, safe, and kind. Take care.”

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(FB: marlon.west1 Twitter: @marlonw IG: stlmarlonwest Spotify: marlonwest)

Marlon West (photo courtesy Marlon West)

R.I.P. Rock and R&B Music Legend Little Richard, 87

Little Richard (photo via commons.wikipedia.org)

Known by many as “The Architect of Rock and Roll,” Richard Wayne Penniman aka Little Richard, was a pioneer of the popular music that came to dominate in the 1950s and beyond.

With a fusion of blues, boogie woogie and gospel stylings, Little Richard helped create the sound that swept the United States and ultimately the world.

Songs like “Rip It Up,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” ‘Ready Teddy,” “Tutti Frutti” combined with his energetic, rousing performances helped Little Richard set the stage and the bar for any and all rock and R&B superstars that came after him. To quote a recent New York Times article, Little Richard offered “An Ecstasy You Couldn’t Refuse.”

In honor of his life’s work GBN Contributor Marlon West put together a Spotify playlist celebrating Little Richard.

In Marlon’s words:

Vernon Reid Twittered this tribute to the late great, Little Richard:

“No Jimi, No Beatles No Bowie, No Bolan. NO GLAM, No Freddie, No Prince, No Elton, No Preston No Sly, No Stevie, WITHOUT Little Richard! They DON’T HAPPEN Without HIM BLAZING A TRAIL IN THE DARK.”

Little Richard’s talent and audaciousness was the springboard to so many. Here’s a collection of his music, and of a wide range of artists who he influenced greatly.

Little Richard was a standard-bearer for being whoever the eff you want.”

Enjoy!

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GBN’s Merry Month of Stevie: Celebrating the Wonders of Stevie’s Harmonica (LISTEN)

by Jeff Meier (FB: Jeff.Meier.90)

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!

To celebrate that part of Stevie’s career, today’s GBN Month of Stevie playlist is entitled “The Wonders of Stevie’s Harmonica, where we’ve amassed every Stevie Wonder harmonica guest appearance that we could find on Spotify into one huge list.

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.

(photo via youtube.com)

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 .