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A Time To Love - Press Release

Sunday Express

Living Legend Of Music Is Back After A Decade Of Triumphs And Tragedies
Chris Goodman
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.

Stevie Wonder - Sunday Express - A Time to Love“Obviously 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 amazing pain.”

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 me?’

“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 Katrina victims.

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 King Jr.

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 says.

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 serious.

“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.