Stevie Wonder performing at Philips Arena in Atlanta, GA/Photo Credit: Moses Robinson-Linx Images
Written by | Ray Cornelius
As much as I hate to admit this, last Saturday night was my very 1st Stevie Wonder concert. While I had the pleasure of meeting him in 2006 at the Trumpet Awards, I had never seen him perform live. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to see the Motown legend as this was indeed the concert to experience his musical genius. This tour is dubbed “Song in the Key of Life Live” and is a nod to his iconic 1976 Grammy-winning LP that is considered by many as one of the greatest albums ever made. Not to date myself but I was only one-years-old when the project was released but I can remember hearing a lot of the music in my household growing up since my dad was a night club singer and my mother an avid Wonder fan.
I arrived at Philips Arena around 7:30 p.m. and seemed to one of several thousand Atlantans trying to get a $10 burger and fry combo before taking my seat. I ran into a number of Atlanta notables like DJ Salah Ananse, Khari Simmons and NBAF Board Chair Sonya M. Halpern, who had detailed memories associated with this particular album. For Halpern, it was hard to pick just one song but did note that “As” and “Joy Inside My Tears” as favorites. Halpern’s starry eyed look and wide smile reminded me of the face I make when I think about my own favorite album, Thriller. There were also countless others in the audience who had a “Stevie story…”—recounting where they were when they first heard “Sir Duke” or the lover in their life when “Knocks Me off My Feet” was a hit on the radio.
Stevie Wonder was escorted on stage by his sons and India.Arie/Photo Credit: Moses Robinson-Linx Images
And then it happened! The lights in Philips Arena went out and the crowd erupted into cheers and thunderous hand claps. Almost like magic, Stevie Wonder appeared on stage in a sparkling burgundy suit escorted by his two young sons and Atlanta’s soul music queen, India.Arie. The talented vocalist and #1 fan of Wonder appeared like the sun in a radiant orange dress with yellow gele adorned with colorful butterflies. Arie was having a Diana Ross “moment” as she changed at least six times throughout the show, each dress and coordinating gele more spectacular than the one before.
Wonder started the show by greeting the audience with a faux Southern accent since he was in the “South.” He reminisced about taking his first plane ride from Detroit to Atlanta and bragged about listening to Aretha Franklin on the way down. He also said that Atlanta represented many pleasant memories for him throughout his career. Arie then helped him to his seat and show formally began at 8:27 p.m.
From the first stroke of his keys, the audience was under his spell and the 60-something year old musician proved why his last name is Wonder. The show started with the album’s first song, “Love’s in Need of Love Today.” Arie, now in gown number two, joined him on vocals for “Have a Talk with God” followed by “Village Ghetto Land” and then “Contusion.” Fan favorites “Sir Duke” and “I Wish” brought the sold out crowd to their feet in one big sing along. At times, the 40 + crowd sounded louder than Wonder and his nearly 30-piece band. I noticed that acclaimed musician Lil’ John Roberts assisted on drums. He is best known for his time with another music icon, Janet Jackson. From there, Wonder segued into the romantic classic, “Knocks Me Off My Feet,” which had some of the audience members waving their cell phones from side to side as if they were holding a candle. Wonder’s voice, still in top form, harmonized perfectly with Earl Klugh’s melodic guitar.
It wasn’t until 9:15 p.m. that Wonder brought his signature harmonica and began to boogie with his band saying that “players love to jam.” From there he launched into “Pastime Paradise,” “Summer Soft,” featuring background vocalist Keith John, and “Ordinary Pain” which featured Arie in costume number three.
Wonder also took this time to address the controversial “gun problem” we have in the U.S. and asked the audience to stand if they agreed with him of which 90 % stood on their feet. “We have the power to end the problem,” said Wonder. “The government needs to make people accountable!”
After that Wonder returned to the music for “Saturn” and “Ebony Eyes” which he performed again with Arie, who by this time was in costume number four.
After a brief intermission, Arie emerged on stage again in an all-white number along with Wonder, who began talking about his next song, “Isn’t She Lovely.” The tune was written for his then unborn daughter, Aisha Morris (pictured above), who now travels with her dad as one of his beautiful background singers. He also joked about the bet his mother made with Berry Gordy that he would regain his sight by 2017. After singing “Isn’t She Lovely,” Wonder performed soul stirring versions of Joy “Inside My Tears” and “Black Man.”
By this time in the show, Wonder had brought out another Atlanta musician, Ryan Kilgore to assist on saxophone. He was later joined again by Arie for “Ngiculera” and an impromptu version of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.”
We were now near the end of the show and Wonder gave the audience some more backstory on the album including recognition of the late Dorothy Ashby, the original harpist on the song, “If Its Magic.” This was the only song of the evening where Wonder performed without his band.
From there, he was joined again by Klugh and Arie for the climactic songs, “As” and “Another Star” which also included guest appearances by Atlanta vocalists, Chantae Cann, Algebra Blessett, Janelle Monae and film director and friend, Spike Lee.
Oh but wait, there was more!
After singing for what appeared to be 2.5 hours, Wonder transformed into his alter ego, DJ Tick Tick Boom and performed snippets from other classic songs like “Do I Do,” “Master Blaster,” “For Once In My Life,” “Happy Birthday.” He teased the audience by saying, “If the price is right, I’ll play all night.” He finally ended the show with full versions of “My Cherie Amour” and “Superstition.”
After the show, I was able to join my good friends from UPtv, David Gardner and Chelsye Burrows, who had backstage access to meet Mr. Wonder. Because there were so many of us in the holding space, his PR team decided to break us up into groups of six for photos. Either way I was thrilled to see him up close again and had experience way more than I had anticipated. It was moments like this that can’t be explained in a text or captured on an Instagram post. You simply just had to be there and I thank God I was blessed to be in that ‘Wonderful” number!
Stevie Wonder talking to backstage guests/Photo Credit: Wonder Productons, LLC
Stevie Wonder with filmmaker and friend Spike Lee/Photo Credit: Wonder Productions, LLC
Stevie Wonder with India.Arie and Janelle Monae/Photo Credit: Wonder Productions, LLC
Here is my group shot with Stevie Wonder/Photo Credit: Wonder Productions, LLC