What can be said that hasn’t already been shared about Stevland Hardaway Morris? Better known around six galaxies as Stevie Wonder, the man, former child prodigy and one of the most successful musicians of the late 20th century turns 67-years-old today (May 13). For those not old enough to know the story of the “Lil’ Stevie Wonder,” here it goes: Signed to Motown’s Tamla label at the age of 11, he performed, wrote, sung and produced records for them all the way into the 2010s.
With iconic singles such as “Sir Duke,”“You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” “Isn’t She Lovely,” “Superstition,” and albums such as Talking Book, Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life — Stevie has more than 30 U.S. top ten hits, won 25 Grammy Awards, helped to make Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s birthday into a national holiday. He is an official “Messenger of Peace” for the United Nations and one of the all-time top artists for the Billboard Hot 100.
To us, he is simply a man who has been in touch with the divine spirit of the Creator, and has illuminated our worlds with his songs and legacy. From playing on street corners with his friend back in the days to throwing down at President Barack Obama‘s last White House party — Stevie Wonder’s impact on pop culture, politics, activism and music are the stuff of legends. For that, we celebrate his life and continuing revolution around the sun by championing these 15 stories that you should read to get more familiar with the architect behind so many classic jams.
Stevie Wonder will get the all-star treatment next month during a tribute concert in his honor. The Associated Press reports that Usher, Willie Nelson and Janelle Monae will be among the performers paying tribute to Wonder at “Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life — An All-Star Grammy Salute.”
The event, which will also feature performances from Coldplay‘s Chris Martin and Ed Sheeran, will take place at the Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE in Los Angeles on Feb. 10.
The concert is scheduled to be held two days after the 57th annual Grammy Awards. Wonder’s history with the Grammys is a stellar one that includes receiving 25 Grammy Awards during his career.
Tickets for “Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life — An All-Star Grammy Salute” are currently on sale. The show is set to air as a two-hour special Feb. 16 on CBS.
“Yes! We did it!” Stevie Wonder exulted, and rightly so, about three hours into his concert at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. He and a huge band, directed by the keyboardist Greg Phillinganes, had played his 1976 album, “Songs in the Key of Life,” from start to finish, 38 years later and every bit as vibrant.
Mr. Wonder’s voice was bright and true, snaking through the melismas that successive generations of singers have emulated and rising easily through every uplifting key change he had built into the songs. At 64 — he started young — Mr. Wonder showed that his lifelong melding of serious intentions, omnivorous musical sophistication and jubilant execution was utterly sure. He laughingly forgot a lyric, played the wrong harmonica for a moment, sang just enough sour notes to show that he’s human and suffered numerous microphone glitches. It was the first show of a tour. But the concert was a triumph: not a simple nostalgia trip but a return visit to songs and ideas that still matter.
“Songs in the Key of Life” was beloved from the moment it appeared. It won a Grammy as album of the year and is widely cited as a favorite by musicians and pop listeners. In interviews, Mr. Wonder has called it the album he is most happy with. But it’s also a long, sprawling experience: 21 tracks that originally filled two LPs and a four-song EP.
Its songs touch on social ills, individual joys, faith, love, war, music, birth, memories, fears and hopes. One title may sum it up: “Joy Inside My Tears,” a ballad that, when he got to it at Madison Square Garden, had Mr. Wonder pounding the top of his piano with his fist, singing the title again and again with gospelly insistence.
Along with the radio-friendly tracks the album is widely remembered for — “Sir Duke,” “Isn’t She Lovely,” “I Wish,” “Pastime Paradise” — it holds exploratory songs like “Contusion,” a jazz-rock instrumental in tricky shifting meters, and “Black Man,” an anti-racism history lesson in funk.
It also balances hurt and healing; its opening song, the beguiling “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” warns, “The force of evil plans to make you its possession” unless love can conquer hate. The album traverses styles; there are blues, soul, rock, funk, chamber pop, bossa nova, big-band salsa, jazzy ballads, even honky-tonk country (in “Ebony Eyes,” for which Mr. Wonder brought out what he called a “thumbtack piano,” an upright with thumbtacks in its hammers to make each note go plink).
What has held it together, then and now, is Mr. Wonder’s good intentions and boundless musicality. All over the album, he ingeniously meshes syncopated ascending and descending lines, as he did in the upbeat “Sir Duke,” the doleful “Pastime Paradise” and the kinetic “I Wish.”
Onstage, he let the best riffs stretch out, savoring the danceable constructions he had set in motion decades ago, as the audience members, many of whom were around for the original album release, stood and shimmied. Now and then, backup singers — including India.Arie, who came and went in multiple regal costumes — took over verses that Mr. Wonder had originally sung. But he was always there to chime back in on higher, more difficult variations.
Mr. Wonder was voluble between songs, joking about tabloid reports that he dismissed as rumors but also doing some preaching. He advocated more accessibility worldwide for the disabled, and he called for better gun control, pointing to a family in the audience that lost a daughter in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. In what seemed like a scripted moment, he said: “I challenge America, I challenge the world, to let hatred go, to let racism go. To respect every single man as if they were your brother, every woman as if they were your sister, every single child as if they were your child.” He continued, “This is the only way we will win as a nation, as a world.”
For an encore, he played one song that wasn’t on “Songs in the Key of Life”: his hit “Superstition,” bolstered by the six-member horn section that was part of the band, which also included a string section and multiple percussionists, keyboardists and guitarists. It wasn’t too different from the rest of the concert: a great riff, a kinetic beat and a warning everyone could dance to, this one about dogma versus rationality. “Superstition ain’t the way!” the arena sang along.
The rest of the “Songs in the Key of Life” tour dates are:
11/9 – Verizon Center – Washington D.C.
11/11 – TD Garden – Boston, MA
11/14 – United Center – Chicago, IL
11/16 – Wells Fargo Center – Philadelphia, PA
11/20 – Palace Of Auburn Hills – Auburn Hills, MI
11/22 – Philips Arena – Atlanta, GA
11/25 – Air Canada Centre – Toronto, ON, CA
11/29 – MGM Grand Garden Arena – Las Vegas, NV
12/3 – KeyArena – Seattle, WA
12/5 – Oracle Arena – Oakland, CA