Stevie Wonder is being feted by a raft of pop, rock and R&B stars on Monday night’s “Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life -- An All-Star Grammy Salute,” which is set to air at 9 p.m. on CBS. As many awards and accolades as Wonder has collected over the last half-century, he still doesn’t sound as though he takes any of it for granted.
“These moments are just incredible,” he told The Times a few hours before the show was taped at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles two nights after the 2015 Grammy Awards ceremony was held at Staples Center across the street. Many of the performers from that show also participated in the Wonder tribute, along with several more who weren’t on the Grammy telecast.
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“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 from my peers,” said Wonder, 64.
He said hearing other artists sing songs he wrote “is an emotional moment, always. It’s an emotional moment when I meet a person who says, ‘My father danced the first dance to your song at my wedding,’ or ‘My wife and I got married to your song’ or ‘When my daughter was born, we played ‘Isn’t She Lovely,’ or ‘When my son was born, we sang ‘Isn’t He Lovely.’”
Wonder wasn’t told which artists would be performing, or what songs anyone would be singing, because, executive producer Ken Ehrlich said, “we wanted to see if we could still keep some surprises.”
“I don’t know who all’s going to be there,” Wonder confirmed. “But to those who are going to be there, I thank them so much. To those who may not be there, I thank them too. To those we’ve lost along the way, I’m very thankful too.”
Indeed, Wonder was visibly moved when R&B singer Ne-Yo launched into “Isn’t She Lovely” and was joined midway through the performance by Wonder’s daughter, Aisha Morris, whose birth in 1975 inspired Wonder to write the song -- and name-check her in it (“ ... life is Aisha”).
Other artists on the show include Beyonce, Pharrell Williams, Annie Lennox, Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, John Legend, Ed Sheeran, Andrea Bocelli, Gary Clark Jr., Janelle Monae and India.Arie. Wonder also caps the show by performing several of his own songs.
He confessed that he'd gotten wind of the appearance by Bennett, who had recorded -- but didn’t release -- the Motown-generated love song “For Once in My Life” before Wonder put his upbeat spin on it and turned it into a pop hit in 1967.
“I wasn’t 13 yet and I’d been seeing him on different shows, seen him going to various marches and I knew about various things he’d done for the civil rights movement, taking a position,” Wonder said. “I never knew I would have the opportunity to sing with him.
“When I did the song way back, I was doing my kind of thing, putting a beat to it,” he said. “I did it when I was 17 or 18, and it was fun and it was exciting. Then I got the chance to sing it with him some years later, after I’d experienced more of life.
"When we first started working on the song, my mother was not doing well, and by the time we did our version, my mother had passed away," Wonder said. "So I had a deeper understanding of what ‘For Once In My Life’ meant. To receive a Grammy for our performance of that song meant so much.”
Wonder has been at work recording new songs and said despite all the focus on his past in the CBS-Grammy tribute show, “I look forward to doing more music, creating more excitement, having more fun, getting deeper and getting sillier. I’m enjoying it; hopefully I’m being an influence and an inspiration to other artists.”
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