Stevie Wonder’s resumption of his “Songs in the Key of Life Performance” tour this month follows February’s star-packed tribute, “Songs in the Key of Life — An All-Star GRAMMY Salute.”
The “Songs in the Key of Life Performance,” an adaptation of Wonder’s classic “Songs in the Key of Life” album, comes to the Smoothie King Center on Tuesday.
The Grammy salute to Wonder, taped Feb. 10 at the filled-to-capacity, 7,000-seat Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles and broadcast Feb. 16, featured performances by Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, John Legend, Tony Bennett, Pharrell Williams, Andrea Bocelli, Ariana Grande, Annie Lennox, the Band Perry and many more, plus host LL Cool J.
Wonder performed at the event, too, delighting the audience with a medley including his classics “Superstition” and “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life.”
“We must, without question, let the world know that love is king and queen,” he told the audience before the medley. “I encourage all of us as artists to write songs about love. ... Let let us come together, let us fool everyone who thinks it’s impossible. Let’s make the impossible possible by loving. Love is the key, and you’ve given me love, and I thank you for it.”
In the hours before the taping, Wonder struck a humble tone.
“I only stand on the shoulders of those before me who made it possible for me to be here, to receive these honors, and these accolades of my peers,” he said. “It’s not always that you’re able to smell the flowers while you’re living, and so in these times, when I’m still in a youthful place in mind and spirit — and somewhat in age, I feel really honored and very thankful.”
Music stars performed Wonder’s songs during the tribute and also spoke his praises.
“The first CD I ever played on my own,” Lady Gaga said, “that I put into a CD player, when I was 6 years old, was a Stevie Wonder album. As a pianist, I can definitely say if it were not for your music, I would not be here today.”
“Songs in the Key of Life,” originally released in 1976 as a multi-vinyl record set, was Wonder’s most extensive and topical artistic statement to date. It includes the hit single, “Isn’t She Lovely.” A Rolling Stone review of Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life Performance” dubbed it “possibly 2014’s greatest testament to the limitless potential of American music itself.” Billboard reported that the album’s songs still resonate and that Wonder played an electrifying, crowd-pleasing show.
Blind since early childhood, Wonder was born in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1950. His family moved to Detroit in 1954. The musically precocious Wonder child sang in the church choir and learned to play piano, percussion and harmonica.
Of course, Detroit is the city where Berry Gordy founded Motown Records, the independent, African-American owned and operated record label that released dozens of hits by Martha and the Vandellas, Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Jackson 5 and many others in the 1960s and ’70s.
Wonder signed with Motown’s Tamla label at 11. His first hit, “Fingertips, Part 2,” appeared in 1963, reaching No. 1 on the rhythm-and-blues and pop charts. His album, “The 12 Year Old Genius,” topped the chart, too, a Motown first.
As the ’60s continued, Wonder began writing songs for himself and producing his recordings. The hits continued with “I Was Made to Love Her,” “For Once in My Life” and “My Cherie Amour.”
Wonder’s career statistics include 32 No. 1 singles, 49 Top 40 and worldwide album sales totalling more than 100 million units. He’s won 25 Grammy awards, an Oscar and a Golden Globe. He’s been inducted into the Rock and Roll, Songwriters and NAACP halls of fame. He’s the youngest recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors.
Wonder is also the only recording artist to receive Grammy album of the year honors in three out of four consecutive years, for 1973’s “Innervisions,” 1974’s “Fulfillingness’ First Finale” and 1976’s “Songs in the Key of Life.”