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A Time To Love - Press Release

USA Today

Still Reaching Higher Ground
Edna Gundersen
Wednesday October 12

LOS ANGELES — Gingerly negotiating steps and dodging furniture, Stevie Wonder shows no hesitation as he leads his guest through rooms and corridors to a recording booth in his Wonderland Studio. Blind since hours after his premature birth in Saginaw, Mich., the R&B legend has spent 55 years without sight but not without vision. He detests the word "disabled."

"Obviously, it would have been nice to learn how to drive," he says. "But I'm very able."

Few could argue. Signed to Motown at age 10, Wonder has built a résumé of towering achievements, from racking up 19 Grammys and 28 studio albums to fighting to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. (Related story: Wonder takes Time)

He took pop music to a higher ground sonically and spiritually with sterling compositions and a stubborn optimism that helped him weather disappointments in social issues and in his personal life.

His idealism eased the misfortunes that hit in recent years as Wonder toiled on A Time to Love, an emotional diary already at online outlets and due Tuesday in stores. His usual sunny perspective emerges on the upbeat Positivity, sung with daughter Aisha Morris, the baby heard giggling on 1976 tune Isn't She Lovely. Shelter in the Rain unmasks the pain Wonder felt after the deaths of his first wife, Syreeta Wright, and his brother Larry Hardaway. The song also serves as a post-Katrina balm, and proceeds will go to storm victims.

Wonder wrote it when he learned Hardaway was dying, and he sang it to Wright on Thanksgiving two years ago, hoping they could record it together. She died of bone cancer in July 2004.

"This song helped me deal with it," says Wonder, clad in black and red with cowrie shells tied into his long braids. "Our voices should be used for uplifting the spirit. Even songs that deal with negative situations need some conclusion of hope.

"On this album, I'm sharing where my life has been and what I've witnessed, from Princess Di to 9/11 to the wars that have happened to things left over from previous years: the pain of John Lennon being killed, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Ray Vaughan. I never thought I'd see the day Ray Charles died. Sorrow is a reality of being alive."

It's not a consuming presence in Wonder's world. Dismayed by the war in Iraq and America's slow progress to erase poverty and racism, he finds shelter in his home life. He married Kai Milla, a fashion designer, in 2001, and they have two sons: 4-year-old Kailand and 5-month-old Mandla, born on Wonder's 55th birthday. Wonder also has five children from earlier relationships.

Family commitments slowed the process of A Time to Love, as did his tendency to tinker and polish. Some melodies languished in wait for the perfect collaborator (the title track, featuring India Arie). He drew inspiration from a broad spectrum, tapping an Ella Fitzgerald vibe for the jazzy Moon Blue and Dr. Dre's rhythmic sensibility for the loop elements in the boldly arranged If Your Love Can Not Be Moved.

Love, both its rewards and responsibilities, tops the topics. On So What the Fuss, Wonder touts accountability as a wiser path than denial, pride or victimhood.

"Some things are definitely our responsibility as individuals, and certain things are the responsibility of people committed to making sure everything is OK," Wonder says. "We get a little twisted and confused when we either don't do what we need to do or entrust responsibility to people not worthy or capable.

"Sometimes we listen to too many commentators about things that don't affect their lives because they're in a different tax bracket. Or to the so-called clergymen giving their interpretation of God's word, and yet they're not rolling the same way in their own lives."

Music isn't immune to such doubletalk, he says, noting, "If you're a rapper saying, 'Hey, I took my Smith & Wesson and blew that bitch away,' you're just creating a story. The reality is you're not blowing anybody away. You're living in a nice place and you've got some good money happening. If you're giving a different impression and a kid thinks that's cool, then you're not living up to your responsibility. You have to say, 'This is art, not truth.'

"It's OK, as long as you're cognizant of affecting lives with what you say. You've got to have that other message that says, 'There are too many guns, and there should be some gun-control laws."

Wonder is a fan of hip-hop, particularly Jay-Z, but the genre's graphic content is one reason he believes it's vital that parents listen to kids and their music.

"They'd understand their frustrations," he says. "It's harder being young these days. Free love now will get you free death. Or a palimony suit."

After several delays, A Time to Heal may be arriving on time, Wonder says. Amid the divisiveness over the Iraq war and the horror over Katrina's toll, love may be what's needed to jump-start change.

"We have to decide if we are going to be the United States or the disunited," he says. "Everyone scrambled in New Orleans, but these people and circumstances have existed for much too long. We've been talking about it since the '60s. When are we going to be able to walk down the road hand in hand?"

Wonder ponders his future with the glee of the preteen who recorded Jazz-Soul of Little Stevie. He wants to write a musical, and he's plotting jazz, gospel and children's recordings. Though distracted by air hockey, the Discovery Channel and XM radio, he won't let another decade slip by before delivering the next album. "I regret," he says, "that I can't live forever."