A Time To Love - Press Release
Living Legend Of Music Is Back After A Decade Of Triumphs
Sunday 13 Nov. 2005
STEVIE WONDER’S performance at London’s Abbey Road studios this week
was universally hailed as the return of a music giant, but between the
exuberant classics Living For The City, As, Golden Lady and
Superstition, the 55-year-old wept as he sang You And I (We Can Conquer
The World) for ex-wife and fellow soul singer Syreeta Wright, who died
of breast cancer last year It has been a decade of pure highs and
seemingly bottomless woes for Wonder before his new album A Time ‘lb
Love was released last month, his first record since 1995’s poorly
received Conversation Piece.
I wasn’t working on a Time To Love for 10 years,” he says with the
trademark grin, unchanged since he was known as Little Stevie Wonder, a
15-year-old Motown prodigy in the Sixties. “I was experiencing life. A
lot has happened in the 10 years. It’s been a time of great joy and
More heavily built these days, Wonder does look the picture of
health, and his notoriously positive outlook is hardly punctured on the
new record. One track, Shelter hi the Rain, has become an anthem in the
US for victims of Hurricane Katrina, although Wonder wrote it about his
own recent hard times.
“Three years ago I found out my brother Larry was terminally ill,”
he says. “Soon after, I was in South Africa, in celebrations for Nelson
Mandela. “Syreeta told me she was worried about a lump on her breast.
She asked me what she should do and I said she should see a doctor.
“Unfortunately, the doctor said the lump was a malignant tumour” he
says, still wincing at the diagnosis. “It was a painful situation and I
came up with Shelter In The Rain around then. It was one of the lowest
points in my life.
“I remember one time before, in 1979, when [singer and friend] Donny
Hathaway died. I felt really bad and I asked God, ‘Why? Why him and not
“People ask me if blind people see in their dreams. Well, you really
don’t see but we have some imagining of what seeing is like. This dream
I had was like a ball of fire and light and it said, ‘You should never
question me about what I’ve given you in your life’. I just felt that
God was telling me to accept his decisions.
“So when this happened with Larry and Syreeta, I wanted comfort
because I now understand no one lives for ever and you just have to pray
they go to the place we hope, a better place and to peace. I was given
this song and I wanted to share it in some way”. Wonder insisted that
Shelter In The Rain be released as a single, with proceeds going to
Although he and Syreeta married in 1970 and divorced 18 months
later, they had stayed close friends, a trick he seems to have also
managed with the mothers of his seven children, including singers
Yolanda Simmons and Melody McCully.
In 2001, Wonder married Kai Mills, an acclaimed fashion designer,
and, soon after, their son Kailand was born. On Wonder’s 55th birthday
this year they had another boy, Mandla. “Great things have happened,” he
says. “I had two new children, two sons. Kailand is four but thinks he’s
45. “Kai is a wonderful person and the family has pulled together, Kai,
my children, all the mothers of my children. Everyone is very special
and family is very important to me.
“You understand why your mother and father did what they did when
you were growing up. You realise how important it is to have
communication between a mother and a father. There’s a great connection
with Kai and with the mothers of my other children. “Fatherhood has
given me more things in life to do than just music but it’s inspired
good things musically”
On the album, Wonder sings with eldest daughter Aisha, now 29. In
1976 she was heard wailing as a new-born baby on Isn’t She Lovely?,
written in her honour At Abbey Road she took to the stage to perform
with her father, who then playfully embarrassed his eldest by serenading
her with the old hit one more time. It seems the entire Wonder clan have
inherited his musical skills. He says four- year-old Kailand listens to
hip hop star Kanye West, 15-year- old daughter Sophia plays piano and
17- year-old Kwame drums. Son Mumtaz is 22 and at college.
He plays keyboards and sings, and Wonder’s first son Keita is a
studio mixer Family life and death delayed A Time To Love but Wonder
need hardly care. Already assured legendary status, his contract with
Motown states that he gets paid only when he produces work.
HAILED as one of the greatest artists of the rock era, Wonder
escaped the shackles of the regimented Motown hit factory when he signed
a new contract on his 21st birthday. He went on to write innovative soul
albums including Songs In The Key Of Life, Innervisions and Talking
Book. But he says he is most proud of his role in instigating a national
holiday in America celebrating the civil rights campaigner Martin Luther
On the new album he criticises people who do not vote, and he is
also a clear opponent of the present American administration although he
does not name President George Bush directly. “I’m not a Republican,” he
says. ‘And I never agreed with war in my life. My personal position is
that I’m not for any group or person who is not about the perpetuation
of human kind and everyone having equality” Since the Eighties, his
critical stock has fallen. An undeterred Wonder thanks us for
“constructive criticism” and has plans for several new albums. “A gospel
album will be next, then jazz, a children’s album and a musical,” he
A natural optimist, he makes no apologies for his upbeat attitude so
often criticised as saccharine in his recent work. “I can relate to
constructive criticism but for those who talk nonsense, I ignore them,”
he says. In 1950, when Wonder was born prematurely, an excess of oxygen
pumped into his incubator was blamed for his blindness but he has never
let it get in the way.
He remains unmoved and unchanged, until he is asked if one of the
more recent rumours is true. Is he really seeking revolutionary
treatment that will restore his sight?
He draws himself up, and takes a deep breath. “OK, I’m going to
announce it now ... I’m going to take these glasses off and drive right
out of here.” A broad grin scotches the story I before he becomes more
“Kai was looking on the internet and found a Doctor Mark Hayman who
had worked with a microchip and found that with a small camera his team
could send impulses to a nerve that could trigger digital images that a
blind person could see with these glasses. “She wanted me to go to
Baltimore to see how eligible I would be. They discovered I could see
some light and that It was possible, but I felt it was - possible with
someone more eligible.
My name was used because if any of this technology could make a
blind person see, a deaf person hear or a paraplegic walk I’m all for
that “They’re doing more research because it got out in the press but I
didn’t do any more about it and my staff still have jobs.” He grins
again. “Someone’s going to have to drive me around for a while yet”
• A Time To Love is out now on Motown.