We were both born in the city of Detroit in the same year of 1950. He made his entry into the world four months before me. The difference? The world knows him, but they do not know me. He is the one and only Stevie Wonder or Stevie Wonderful. We first heard of him when his song Fingertips came out right after our family arrived in Chicago.
Somehow, we ended up being a part of The Great Migration by traveling north after leaving the Jim Crow southern city of Memphis. My father, a northern-born man, had gone back south to retrieve his family. He had gone ahead of us after trying to deal with working in the South. He got a job in Chicago, an apartment in Woodlawn and a car with his sister’s assistance and came back to get us.
So, as we tearfully settled down at 6140 So. Kenwood and new friends and music saved us. Stevie sang Fingertips and later, My Cherie Amour as Motown made its debut in everyone’s hearts and put the Motor City on the map. And thus, Stevie Wonder has been and still is one of the steady musical backdrops of my life.
Quite like a dependable friend, he has always been there with a new song to help me remember the major and pivotal points of my life. He is like the tick marks on a number line. I could easily add a year above each song and tell anyone where I was and what I was doing at that time.
When I moved into my first apartment in 1972, I think of songs like Been So Long or lyrics like, ‘Mary wants to be a superwoman and try to boss the bull around…” Then the song moves into a slow heart-warming tempo that asks,” Where were you when I needed you last winter? My love?” The hits and albums kept rolling like loose tires down a hill. We sang to albums like Talking Book , Fullingness First Finale and Innervisions, to name a few.
I woke up many mornings singing, “You always creep into my dreams,” or “Boogie on Reggae woman.” As life moved forward, Stevie’s music played in the background whether washing the dishes, moving to another apartment, driving to work or even trying to make sense of a tattered love affair.
And then, quite like a revolution? Boom. In late 1976, he had the audacity to create an album with two records. And this was pre-CD’s, so there were two LPs, in his album Songs in the Key of Life. And my, it was so much material that everyone could find something to love such as Mister Know it All or As. I was also going through a revolution because I decided to quit my teaching job and make a quantum leap. I headed to the Deep South to attend graduate school at a HBCU.
Later in the 80’s when I settled down in Memphis again, he had mellowed even more. I think of lyrics such as, “These three words” and other love songs like Part-Time Lover. And boom. We heard he was coming to town. I do not remember the location of the venue, but they had him on a circular stage and he went around as he sang.
My friend Michelle later said, “I touched him.” I was like, “What?” She said, “I touched him.’” He had walked pass us as he entered the one level room, so she was like the woman who touched Jesus. I shook my head and I guess that he is used to it whenever people can get close enough to steal a touch.
The Steve Wonder stories could go on and on, but after seeing him this past Sunday on the American Music Awards, I was inspired to write this piece. He still looks great and revealed his great sense of humor when he told Wayne Brady to, “Begone” as he was talking to him outside of his dressing room. Surely his ability to laugh at life has kept him young and he can safely rest on his laurels from now on!
November 26, 2022