Stevie gives Boston a wonderful evening
Bridgit Brown and Howard Manly
Stevie Wonder had a secret to share.
It was about his mother, Lula Mae Hardaway.
She died a little more than a year ago at the age of 76, and she did more than simply give birth to him.
Back in the day, when he was known as “Lil’ Stevie,” she negotiated his first contract with Motown.
She co-wrote “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” and “I Was Made to Love Her.”
And she was on Stevie’s mind when he walked on stage last Thursday night before a sold-out, gently graying crowd at the Bank of America Pavilion. His daughter Aisha Morris — the subject of yet another Stevie hit, “Isn’t She Lovely” — accompanied him.
Before he got down to business, Wonder had a few words of caution about his striking daughter. It was something about being a blind man with a shotgun.
The laughter subsided when Stevie began talking about the secret.
“I never mentioned this to anybody before,” Wonder said. “My mother died last year and when it happened, I cancelled all of my shows. That was my way of grieving.
“It was devastating,” Stevie said, choking on his words. “… Then one night, I dreamed that my mother called me on the phone and I said to her in the dream, ‘Ma? How is this happening? I thought you died.’ My mother then asked me in the dream how I was doing and I told her that I had cancelled my shows and wasn’t doing too well at all.
“Then she said to me, in her voice, ‘Boy, you better get out there and do what you do.’”
And that is what Stevie does. Even at the relatively young age of 57, even after performing and working the business for nearly five decades and earning 25 Grammy Awards, Stevie still does what he does.
He talks about love. He talks about caring. He talks about making an impact.
It took less than three hours for last Thursday’s show to sell out, and the paid attendance number of about 5,000 doesn’t include the hundreds of folks crowded on their boats in Boston Harbor or outside the front gates at the Bank of America Pavilion.
Stevie and Aisha began the concert with a duet of “How Will I Know.”
At the close of that song, Aisha joined the backup singers to harmonize on songs like “Living Just Enough,” “Ribbon in the Sky,” “A Place in the Sun,” “Overjoyed” and a slew of other favorites.
Throughout the night, Stevie alternated between the piano and keyboards, and even cried while singing “As,” his mother’s favorite song by him.
At the end of the concert, Stevie spoke to the Banner from a comfy tan love seat in a cabin backstage.
Sipping soup from a Styrofoam cup, he began the interview by introducing Akosua Busia, the U.S.-based Ghanaian actress who starred opposite Whoopi Goldberg as Nettie in Steven Spielberg’s “The Color Purple.” She also co-wrote the screenplay adaptation of Toni Morrison’s award-winning novel, “Beloved.”
Once Busia was gone, Stevie became playful, sipping his soup and asking questions about Boston.
“I’ve been to Roxbury before,” he says. “I had a couple of friends who used to live there. I knew [Angela Paige], who founded [Paige Academy]. She was the friend of a woman named Malachia who used to braid my hair. I spent two days at Paige Academy.”
Glad to know that the school is still around today, Stevie had a few words to say about the current state of America, and while he didn’t use the word “conspiracy,” he clearly was heading in that direction.
“I think it’s very unique how things are done — like they were planned,” Wonder said. “The whole O.J. thing that I have been following was all a setup because it so conveniently happened around the time when the Jena sentencing [in Louisiana] was about to happen. I mean, all of sudden the media is talking about O.J. Simpson and him getting arrested for armed robbery and then it flips and says, ‘We don’t think he had a gun.’”
Wonder is no fan of the mainstream media.
“I think that possibly the media might be the downfall of America,” Wonder said. “I mean, you have to tell stories, but somebody has to have — to me — enough sense or dignity to understand that there are people who are hungry for information, and when you feed them garbage and trash and stupidity all the time, then that’s what they look forward to. It’s just trash or sensationalism.”
Case in point: Britney Spears.
“That’s a major thing in the media,” Wonder said, “and it’s like they’re laughing at her situations, the issues that she’s dealing with. I think it’s just that, they’re mocking and laughing at her. What about giving her some help? What about talking about some of these things that keep happening on and on and on?
“What about guns?” Wonder asked. “We have 40,000 suicides a year. Young people killing themselves, and people getting fed up and, conveniently, there is a gun and they just blow their heads off. Why can’t we deal with that kind of stuff?”
Then, Stevie went celestial.
“I think that if there was an asteroid coming toward this planet and it was maybe 4 million miles away and traveling at some ridiculous speed toward Earth, people would be so enthralled in the ridiculousness of it,” he said. “But the people who have a way of being protected will say, ‘Let’s do what we can do, but for those who can’t move or who might cause panic and mass hysteria, let’s wait for the last minute and tell them about it, [and then say] we didn’t know.’”
What Stevie knows, more than most, is music, and he was quick to give his opinion on the state of the art.
“You have some good R&B; you have some bad R&B,” Wonder said. “I think hip-hop is great. It’s unfortunate when people say things about rap because it’s a form of expression no different than when they were saying ‘Shake your booty,’ and everybody was saying, “Oh my God, why you saying ‘Shake your booty?’
“I don’t give any juice or appreciation to someone using the b-word or the n-word, I’m not feeling that at all, but I think that there are ways where people can express themselves without getting stuck on stupid.”
Wonder went further. “I think that on a certain level, people are caught between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “Corporations want to go for what’s hot and what sells and what’s going to get them on BET or MTV, and they go for that thing that works out there.”
Stevie Wonder performs during the final show of his summer tour at the Bank of America Pavilion, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2007. Alternating between piano and keyboards, the 57-year-old Grammy Award-winner wooed the crowd of 5,000 strong with Wonder staples like “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” and “I Was Made to Love Her.” (Lolita Parker Jr. photo) For more photos of the concert go to Scenes
|(top) District of Columbia police officers flank singer Stevie Wonder following his arrest outside the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C., Feb. 14, 1985, during an anti-apartheid protest. Wonder said his Valentine’s Day arrest was “my expression of love to all the people of South Africa who are against the barbaric policies of apartheid.” (AP photo/Ron Edmonds)
(middle) Coretta Scott King, widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., embraces singer Stevie Wonder during a celebration on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., Nov. 3, 1983, after U.S. President Ronald Reagan signed a bill making the civil rights leader’s birthday, Jan. 15, a national holiday. Wonder received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Civil Rights Museum on Oct. 17, 2006. (AP photo/Ron Edmonds)
(bottom) Stevie Wonder on the cover of last week’s issue of Jet magazine. He performed the final concert of his tour last week at the Bank of America Pavilion. (Photo courtesy of Jet Magazine)