Nobody’s better at setting the perfect table than the incomparable Stevie Wonder when the party calls for a munificent menu replete with a smorgasbord of memorably soulful sounds, a vibe which welcomes the total, uninhibited release of ethereal emotions and a celebratory spirit that ignores differences of age, gender or race.
And that’s exactly what fans fortunate enough to secure a ticket experienced during the enigmatic entertainer’s limited engagement concert series, “Stevie Wonder Song Party: A Celebration of Life, Love and Music,” recently held for two nights at The Theater at MGM in National Harbor, Maryland.
It was Stevie’s first full-fledged tour since he filled auditoriums across the country in 2015 and 2016 featuring all of the music from his 1976 opus, “Songs in the Key of Life” — a creation that only a musical genius could conceive, the likes of which had not been heard since Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.”
Understandably, Wonder, now 68, has a greater challenge reaching into the vocal stratosphere in order to firmly land upon notes once performed with relative ease, but that hasn’t impacted that unique, magical quality that has surrounded him since Berry Gordy first welcomed the child prodigy bearing his harmonica into the Motown family.
As a Black man born and raised in Detroit, the birthplace of Gordy’s musical empire, just two years shy of my 60th birthday, I cannot recall a time when the inspiring lyrics and beautifully crafted chords of Stevie Wonder did not hold a special place in my life, dominating the top of my singalong repertoire.
Albeit to say, Stevie remains one of those rare entertainers whose singularly spectacular showmanship, exhibited day in and day out before audiences big or small, makes for an experience that can be difficult to accurately describe.
And while he didn’t tell me this, it would not surprise me if he chose music for his recent tour from among his enormous and popular songbook by merely tuning into the unspoken request lists of his fans.
Prior to hitting the stage along with his talented trio of singers and a multifaceted band with whom he joyfully tickled the ivories, occasionally hammering out intricate rhythms and sounds on instruments which I honestly could not name, the concert began with a DJ spinning a litany of tunes essential for any old-school “blue lights in the basement” kind of party — from Motown’s cavalcade of #1 hits to more recent tunes — each guaranteed to bring even Grandma to her feet: Prince, Earth, Wind and Fire, Chuck Brown — even Michael Jackson whose birthday happened to coincide with the first of Stevie’s two nights in National Harbor.
Stevie Wonder sang all of the songs we wanted to hear and invited us to dance, shout, finger-pop, foot stomp and, of course, sing along. And so we did — some even putting down their canes or walkers, removing their jackets or shawls, tossing back their hair and throwing caution to the wind while enjoying songs that have served as the foundation for a lifetime of precious memories for fans too numerous to count.
During his remarks, Stevie said he’d chosen to dedicate his show to his beloved friend, Aretha Franklin in whose funeral he would be performing after completing his concert in Maryland. Clearly, the spirit of the “Queen of Soul” was among us — as were those of so many other legendary Black entertainers whose music remains for all to celebrate, years after their deaths.
Stevie has announced that he’ll be releasing a new studio album, “Through the Eyes of Wonder,” sometime before the end of the year. He’s even hinted that he’s working on a gospel album, fulfilling a promise he made long ago to his mother.
But for now, I, along with thousands of others, had nothing about which to honestly complain, as our “host” provided sent us on our way filled to the brim with a melodic meal that included songs like “As if You Read My Mind,” “Higher Ground,” “All I Do” and “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing.”
Stevie Wonder recently said he’s confident that “the sky’s the limit” in terms of what’s next for him as he continues along the road of his brilliant career. And you know, I not only cannot wait but I believe every word.