A Time To Love - Press Release
A Wonder to behold
Stevie Wonder's latest album is a reminder of just what a genius he is
Helen A.S. Popkin
18 October 2005
Last year, Stevie Wonder joined the pantheon of A-list stars with
something to promote, debuting his first new music in 10 years on "The
Oprah Winfrey Show." For her part, Oprah pulled out all the stops,
dedicating the entire show to the music legend. Video segments included
a peek at Wonder's private life, including the blind musician's driving
skills behind the wheel of his new Rolls Royce. Wonder goofed with the
host, sang with his daughter as well as his "biggest fan," (Oprah) and
performed a medley of his many hits.
Oprah asked her trademark meaning-of-life questions. And as
expected, Wonder responded thoughtfully, though with little revelation
or surprise. Example: How does Stevie Wonder, 55, define himself as a
musician? "I am a lover of music and I am a person who will continue to
be constantly curious about the sounds I hear," Wonder responded in
part. Gazing at the musician with rapt attention, Oprah casually
mentioned how he performed at her party — transmitting her considerable
consumer endorsement of his new LP to her ever-obedient audience.
Of course, that was when "A Time To Love" was scheduled for release
in May. Several abandoned release dates later, the new LP finally hits
stores on October 18, long after Oprah's original thumbs up. Wonder's
strategic booking didn't take into account the musician's perfectionism
that helped make this Wonder's first new release in a decade. As he told
"Billboard," it was just a matter of "getting it right."
Despite the long stretch between LPs, Wonder has never been far from
the public eye. In the last few years, he performed at Johnnie Cochran's
memorial service and the Live 8 concerts, publicly scolded Eminem for
picking on Michael Jackson in Em's "Just Lose It' video, and was
allegedly waved at by George W. Bush at a presidential gala. But
extended absence from the music charts makes fans forget. And the kids
who think of Wonder as that other blind piano player, the one who wasn't
played by Jamie Foxx in that movie, don't know why he's so important to
the music they listen to today.
Wonder's influence extends beyond the sample of his song "Do I Do"
in the Ja Rule tune, "Livin' It Up," or "Pastime Paradise" used in the
Coolio hit, "Gansta's Paradise." Both Usher and Justin Timberlake have
built careers on pretty good Wonder vocal impressions. And to be sure,
programmed radio overflows with Wonder hits. From "Uptight (Everything's
Alright)," "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours" and "Superstition," on
oldies stations, to the sentimental love songs "My Cherie Amour,"
"That's What Friends Are For," and "I Just Called to Say I Love You," on
the easy listening channels, Wonder is engrained in our universal
consciousness. It's almost too easy to take him for granted. But there's
more to Wonder than just the hits.
Melding R&B, pop, jazz, reggae, African music, and show tunes,
Wonder's fusion of sound heralded the R&B album of the `70s. Along with
Marvin Gaye and Issac Hayes, Wonder created LPs that worked as full
concepts, not just a couple of sure-fire hits and some filler. The
gifted singer, songwriter, and producer who can play a multitude of
instruments made synthesizers the norm in modern R&B music. And while
some of Wonder's weaker lyrics can be faulted as overly sentimental, the
music is always immaculate.
Little Stevie Wonder, as he was crowned when he first signed with
Motown when he was barely 11 years old, is the rare child protegee who
grew up to be an even more successful adult, leading a life
comparatively free of controversy. (Take, for example, the
aforementioned Motown roster mate, Michael Jackson.) He divorced his
first wife, singer Syreeta Wright, with whom he wrote several songs,
including "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," but the two remained friends and
song-writing partners until her recent death. He was sued by a former
lover in 2001 — but that sort of thing, along with multiple divorces, is
de rigueur for anyone famous these days.
Blind nearly since birth, Wonder's preteen success is thanks in some
part due to "that other blind piano player," Ray Charles. Wonder's
second full-length LP, "Tribute to Uncle Ray," was comprised of Charles
cover tunes and played upon the older musician's success and the
similarities between the two. But it wasn't until his third LP, "The 12
Year Old Genius" (also referencing Charles' "genius" status) that Wonder
gained worldwide attention.
Fans who came of age during Wonder's heyday as both a boy and an
adult will tell you they learned everything they needed to know from
Wonder's music. Love, religion, issues of race and class — Wonder
embraced these themes through both words and music. Crafting solid pop
standards such as "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," from the 1972 LP
"Talking Book," Wonder also extended his craft to deftly cover social
issues in his music, including the hits "Living for the City," and
"Higher Ground" from the 1973 LP, "Innervisions."
The 1976 double-LP, "Songs in the Key of Life" remains the height of
Wonder's career. Two years in the making, "Songs" was Wonder's most
ambitious work, featuring a variety of musical styles and themes. Hits
included the Duke Ellington tribute, "Sir Duke,' a ballad for his
daughter, "Isn't She Lovely," and the funk hit, "I Wish."
Unsurprisingly, it earned a Grammy for Album of the Year, but it was
three years before Wonder released another LP. Wonder continued to
receive awards for other hits, including an Oscar for "I Just Called to
Say I Love You."
Worth the wait
Wonder's new LP, "A Time to Love," is hailed by many critics as
worth the wait. The 15-track collection includes three duets, including
"How Will I Know" which features his daughter, Aisha Morris, for whom he
wrote "Isn't She Lovely?" He is also accompanied by India.Arie on the
nearly 10-minute-long title track, and by gospel vocalist Kim Burrell on
"If Your Love Cannot Be Moved." Another song, "Shelter in the Rain," was
originally written about the recent deaths of both his brother, Larry
Hardaway and his ex- wife, Write. However, the LP's postponed release
coincided with the Hurricane Katrina disaster, and typical of his
humanitarian work, Wonder is contributing the royalties of the song to
In honor of his 40-year career, Wonder recently received
"Billboard's" Century Award, the music magazine's highest honor. He' is
one of the few artists to have two songs named by the American Society
of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) as the century's most
popular love songs ("You Are the Sunshine of My Life" and "I Just Called
to Say I Love You.") It's doubtful that Wonder will ever be viewed as a
has-been. "So What the Fuss," The first single from "A Time To Love"
(released long before the LP was available), debuted at No. 13 on the
Billboard Adult R&B Chart, possibly on inertia of the Stevie Wonder
legend alone. Whether the LP does well remains to be seen, but it's
certain that Wonder will always be a welcome guest on "Oprah," or any
other stage he chooses to grace.