It’s no surprise Stevie Wonder will perform a tribute during Aretha Franklin’s funeral in Detroit this week because he’s … well, he’s Stevie Wonder.
The Motown legend has long been a musical statesmen, an ambassador who unfortunately has had to pay posthumous tribute to such great contemporaries as Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston, Prince and Michael Jackson.
This is what Wonder, the 68-year-old megastar who recently married Maryland’s Tomeeka Robyn Bracy, told “CBS This Morning” after Franklin’s death on Aug. 16. (He appeared after one of his handlers told The Washington Informer that he wouldn’t be available for an interview with Informer Managing Editor D. Kevin McNeir.)
“She wasn’t able to speak back, but her family felt that she could hear me, and so I just said all the things that I’ve always said and told her to say hello to my sister — that I lost this year as well,” he said.
The “Superstition” singer, who’s easily one of the most prominently figures in the history of music and the winner of an astounding 25 Grammy Awards, said he’d previously discussed making music with the Queen of Soul and was devastated by her death.
“I thought I cried my last tear,” he said.
Though he hasn’t granted interviews to the Black Press, he did provide McNeir with special review tickets to the MGM National Harbor show.
Wonder has done as much as anyone in the Black community. A freedom fighter and activist, he spearheaded the successful efforts of making Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday.
Unlike most superstars, Wonder has been able to beat back and even quash potential scandal and his career has survived a 1973 accident that left him in a coma, three marriages and a very public 2016 claim by a Philadelphia woman and former backup singer that Wonder fathered a child out of wedlock some 49 years prior.
In 2002, Wonder’s mother, Lula Hardaway, released the book “Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway and Her Son, Stevie Wonder” (Simon & Schuster), co-authored by this writer.
Although Wonder had worked four years with the writers, he did an about-face as the book was about to hit shelves, resulting in a letter from his lawyers threatening to sue his mother, the writers and publisher. The move scuttled deals with Reader’s Digest, which had purchased serial rights, and a much-anticipated media tour for Hardaway that initially included appearances on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Larry King Live.”
Wonder never explained to Hardaway, who died in 2006, or to the writers his sudden adversity toward the work, but did force a title change to “Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder’s Mother.”
Without her son, Hardaway would appear on such shows as “Imus in the Morning,” “The Howard Stern Show” and a host of small market radio stations.
Still, Wonder has remain unscathed when it comes to public relations — a special feat particularly in the era of gotcha journalism, social media and “fake news.” Every appearance becomes a treat, like the memorable “Carpool Karaoke” singalong with James Corden, who has driven around a who’s who of A-list superstars including Madonna, Paul McCartney, Adele and even Ice Cube.
“Stevie Wonder changed everything. When he did the show, people went, ‘Oh my God!'” Corden told the Australian news site, news.com.au. “Artists follow other artists, actors follow actors, and artists ultimately feel comforted and supported by the people that are around them. When you say to an artist who doesn’t want to do the segment, ‘Well, Stevie Wonder did it. What are you saying?’ Then they’ll go, ‘Oh, God. If it’s good enough for him, I’ll do it!'”
When he appears this week for two shows at MGM National Harbor, fans will again be treated to something memorable: sheer genius.
Wonder’s staying power and ability to remain relevant counts nothing short of spectacular. His music continues as timeless — “Signed, Sealed Delivered,” “I Wish,” My Cherie Amor,” “Sir Duke,” “Superstition” and the list goes on.
“I saw [Wonder] at [Capital One Arena] a few years ago and I thought, well, you’re going to see and hear the same stuff that you saw and heard a decade ago, two decades ago,” Renee Crenshaw of Southeast told The Informer in 2015 after attending the D.C. concert. “But after the show, it was like a brand new experience and he, believe it or not, keeps getting better, if that’s possible for Stevie Wonder.”
Based on his unmatched track record, it’s likely MGM National Harbor will enjoy two shows of unprecedented greatness.
They will undoubtedly be shows that only the iconic Stevie Wonder can bring.
“And it’ll be worth every penny,” Crenshaw said.
Stacy M. Brown is the co-author of “Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder’s Mother.” He said he will always cherish the years that he was in touch with the Motown legend, eating with him, watching him play the white baby grand piano in his mother’s living room and the late-night telephone calls the legend routinely made to him.