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Stevie Wonder celebrates 'life, love, music,' teases new tour, album at private pre-birthday bash with Donald Glover

Stevie Wonder celebrates 'life, love, music,' teases new tour, album at private pre-birthday bash with Donald Glover
Stevie Wonder was joined by singers Shelea, Kelly Rowland, Jessie J, Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) and Luke James at a private birthday concert he gave Wednesday in Beverly Hills. (Randy Lewis / Los Angeles Times)

Stevie Wonder threw himself an early birthday party on Wednesday at the Peppermint Club in Beverly Hills, a star-studded affair that included a nearly two-hour performance that was at least as much a gift to the couple hundred invitees as it was for the guest of honor.

Wonder, who turns 68 on Sunday, also teased a new tour in the coming months that he said anticipated the release of a new studio album, "Through the Eyes of Wonder," which he hopes to put out before the end of the year. And he hinted at his interest in collaborating with the man who is a cultural flashpoint of the moment, musician-actor Donald Glover, a.k.a. Childish Gambino, one of the many arts and entertainment world stars on hand within the club's cozy confines.

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Toward the end of his hit-filled, often meandering set during which he was backed by a vibrant five-piece band, Wonder called for some vocal backup from the crowd: Glover, Kelly Rowland, English singer Jessie J, Shelea and Luke James.

They eagerly obliged as he lit into "Superstition" and stuck around on stage as he wrapped up the performance segment with "Do You Love Me?" the 1962 Contours hit that Wonder dedicated to the song's writer Berry Gordy, the 88-year-old Motown Records founder who held court at his ringside table through the evening.

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Others in the house included actors Angela Bassett, Luke Wilson, Nick Cannon and rapper T.I.

After starting with a punchy version of "As if You Read My Mind," Wonder continued the performance with a generous serving of signature songs, including "Higher Ground," "Living for the City," "Ma Cherie Amour," "Master Blaster (Jammin')," and "Golden Lady." As he often does, he spontaneously started songs then just as the audience offered cheers of recognition, he stopped and moved-in this case offering snippets of "I Just Called to Say I Love You" and "Always."

He moved beyond his own considerable catalog for an exquisite reading of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready," the gospel-rooted message of unity that was the raison d'etre of the evening: providing notes of reassurance and comfort in tumultuous times — times of "so much confusion," he said early on.

"The one thing we know for sure consistently that we can celebrate is life, love and music," he said, echoing the gathering's official title that's also expected to be the theme for the tour: "The Stevie Wonder Song Party: Life, Love and Music."

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The new round of concerts begins with a five-night stint in Las Vegas at the Park Theater at Park MGM on Aug. 3, 4, 8, 10 and 11. He'll move on for two nights in Atlantic City, N.J. on Aug. 26 and 26, two more in National Harbor, Md. on Aug. 29 and 39 and a final stop Sept. 1 in Springfield, Mass.

In a post-performance interview backstage, Wonder said he plans to fashion a show in which "people can bring their albums, their singles, their old photos, their memories and celebrate some moments that they've had with me and the songs and that they've had different experiences with — at weddings, graduations, children being born, or when they fell in love. The can describe them to me as I do the song. It will be very interactive: BYLP, bring your LP."

Wonder took a moment to address the turmoil that rapper Kanye West unleashed recently with his words of support for President Trump, whom the combative rapper referred to as "my brother," as well as his remarks in a TMZ interview suggesting that slavery was "a choice."

He offered words of empathy along with a soft-spoken but unequivocal reprimand to West, saying, "There's a lot of talk about what's been said by Kanye. I think to some degree people could be using his situation of how he lost his mother and the horrible thing that happened, and I don't know if he's had a chance to really mourn all of that. I don't like anyone using anyone [else's] circumstance or condition for their own purposes.

"But we all know that slavery was not 'a choice,' " he said. "People are asking me 'What do you think?' Come on — it's absurd. So I think that people need to understand, if you know your history, if you know the truth, you know that's just foolishness."

As for working with Glover, "I had a chance to talk with Donald a little bit. I like his visual stuff that I've read about. I want to have a marriage of visuals with the music, because the world has become more visual than ever before, and I think that marriage is very important for people to get the complete message.

"We've talked about it, and we're going to make it happen," he said. "I have a lot of songs, 24 or 25 songs. And there are other visuals as well. It's fun to have expressions of young people as well, to give people impressions of what I'm seeing through all of this that is happening in the world….. I'm also working on my gospel album, which I promised my mother I would do. The sky's the limit for the things I want to do."

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UPDATES:

May 16, 2:24 p.m.: This post was updated with details on Wonder's 2018 tour itinerary.

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