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Wonder’s Call Brings Delight to Young at Art

Stevie Wonder should have just called to say “I’ll be late.”

The superstar singer donated his appearance at Saturday’s benefit for the San Diego city schools’ “Young at Art” program, given in the Champagne Ballroom at the Sheraton Harbor Island for an audience that, at least at the outset of the evening, numbered about 500.

The schedule listed Wonder’s performance at 9:30 p.m. But, because a snafu with the seating arrangements significantly delayed the service of the beef filet-and-prawn dinner, guests had just begun to wield their cutlery at that time. As they gradually discovered, they had ample time for a leisurely dinner.

At 11 p.m., the master of ceremonies wrung a laugh out of the crowd by announcing the results of Super Bowl XXV, which, of course, would not be played until the next day.

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Somewhat later, Bob Adelizzi, CEO of the benefit’s sponsor, HomeFed Bank, briefly interrupted the waiting by introducing Michael Tsoi. The 7-year-old musician, composer, third-grader and winner of the first HomeFed “What’s Right With Kids” award, responded to the applause by taking the keyboard to play Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.”

At midnight, the Emcee went back to the well and announced the results of Super Bowl XXVI; the laughter was noticeably more strained this time around, even though the score, San Diego Chargers 27, Dallas Cowboys 13, had hometown appeal.

The ranks thinned as the moments ticked by, but the faithful remained, eyes flicking frequently to the unmanned keyboard that occupied center stage.

And then, at precisely 12:16 a.m., Wonder rolled in at the center of a rushing maelstrom of excitement, waved down the applause and launched the concert with “Let’s Be Jammin,” a musical moment that instantly erased memories of hours of impatient finger-drumming and led into such other Wonder classics as “Golden Lady” and the ineffable “I Just Called to Say I Love You.”

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After a brief speech, Wonder dedicated his performance of “Keep Our Love Alive” to black South Africa leader Nelson Mandela. The audience kept its love of Wonder audibly alive through the hourlong performance.

For some in the crowd, the concert was the evening’s second rendezvous with Wonder. Many top-level patrons received invitations to a small, private reception at 7 p.m. in the Fairbanks Ballroom of the nearby Sheraton Grand hotel, at which arts benefactor Muriel Gluck, who provided $2.75 million in initial funding for the “Young at Art” program, was honored for her contribution.

The reception, co-hosted by Motown Records, attracted several principals of HomeFed Bank and of the Maxwell H. Gluck Foundation, as well as politicians, leaders of San Diego’s black community, prominent patrons of the visual and performing arts and not a few artists.

Many interpreted the black-tie dress code to mean “dressy but artsy,” an attitude reflected by Mayor Maureen O’Connor’s tight, black sequined pants, by unrestrained cummerbunds and by the artists in do-it-yourself regalia, notably one combination Gypsy-flapper ensemble that made a loud if indefinite statement.

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Until Wonder’s late arrival at the center of a nearly presidential cordon of bodyguards, Gluck held center stage. “Tonight’s just a bonus for ‘Young at Art,’ ” she said. “I’m going to support the program for another year, and then they have to look for other funds. I’ve launched them, I wish them well. It’s a marvelous program.”

Robert Lauer, a director of the Gluck foundation, said that Young at Art, which provides temporary resident artists as instructors in elementary school classrooms, is not necessarily out of the running for future grants. “We may continue funding after the next year. We haven’t reached any conclusions yet,” he said. “Mrs. Gluck is very satisfied with the program, which has met all the objectives we set for it.”

The fact that current funding is nearing an end prompted the benefit.

Kay Wagner, visual and performing arts manager for San Diego city schools--her duties include directing Young at Art--addressed the situation bluntly.

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“Tonight is necessary because we don’t have any funding,” she said. “Mrs. Gluck gave us the initial funding with the understanding that we would find continuing funding, and Stevie Wonder certainly has drawn a lot of attention to Young at Art.”

Bob Adelizzi, a veteran of the charity fund-raiser circuit, described the event as one of a kind. “The orientation to children gives a certain uniqueness to the benefit, and blending that with Stevie Wonder’s involvement makes it one of the more significant events of the year.”

Well after the reception guests were to have boarded shuttle buses for the dinner at the other Sheraton, Wonder and his entourage made a grand entrance that set off an immediate volley of speechifying and award-presenting.

O’Connor, after greeting the singer, introduced City Councilman Wes Pratt, who read the Mayor’s proclamation declaring Jan. 26 to be Stevie Wonder Day in San Diego.

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Concluding his remarks, Pratt told Wonder, “You’ve become a symbol, not only to Afro-American youth but to all youth.”

Not to be outdone, County Supervisor Leon Williams then stepped forward to award the singer a medallion bearing the seal and motto of the county of San Diego.

“You’re looking so pretty, I won’t hang it on you, you can just put it in your pocket,” said Williams, to which Wonder responded by remarking that he would rather look handsome. He then slung the medal around his neck.

Wonder spoke to the audience at considerable length, and concluded by congratulating the group for its support of Young at Art.

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“When we make an honest effort to give of ourselves, to take the time necessary in our hearts to believe in the dreams of others, then we really are doing something in our lives,” said the singer in a solemn, quiet voice. “Those of you who are participating in Young at Art are making much possible. You people are doing God’s will, you are truly walking in the light of the Father.”

The guest list included Jheryl Busby, president of Motown Records, as well as representatives of local arts organizations that have benefited from Gluck’s largess. Joseph Hibben, president of the San Diego Museum of Art, attended with his wife, Ingrid. The museum also was represented by director Steven Brezzo and his wife, Dagmar, and by assistant director Jane Rice and her husband, Frank. The San Diego Opera’s table included director Ian Campbell and his wife, Anne, and Sandra and Douglas Pay.


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