By David M. Whettstone
Stevie Wonder is completing concert tour after a ten-year absence. Here at the Verizon Center, he kept the sold out crowd “Too High” for two and a half hours. Introduced and accompanied by his daughter Aisha with an awesome complement of backup band and singers, Wonder did not exhaust his endless stream of hits. His music and lyrics are undoubtedly spectacular. Yet it is his spirit, words, and messages that seek to reach the listener’s heart. And this may be the more important thing.
At the start of the concert, Wonder let us know that his tour was in honor of his mother who died on May 31, 2006. What a fitting memorial to be given by a most beautiful son.
Anyone familiar with Lula Mae Hardaway, Wonder’s mother, also knows that she prevailed against tremendous odds and had her son to do so as well. She co-wrote three of Wonder’s biggest hit singles, "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours" (1970), "Don't Know Why I Love You" (1969) and "I Was Made To Love Her" (1967).
Wonder’s performance is an act of commitment, renewal, and reinvigoration. But these attributes are not just for Wonder himself. He extends these virtues to the audience for them to partake.
His energy seems effortless and without limits. He kept reaching back and giving. But the charm of it all – in his being his natural self – is his simplicity.
Wonder spoke, as he has done throughout his career, to the social and the political things of our lives. He can forcefully preach without seeming preachy. He had power and authority in his engagement of us. And for all the immensity of the moment, he makes a simple request of us: love. Everything leads to that. Anything that is meaningful, purposeful or worthy in his book (and probably in ours as well) is based on love.
Wonder hammered poverty, war, racism, and hate. He called for the ending of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. He highlighted the conflict and dilemma of Darfur. And he surely did not overlook the problems of cities throughout the United States.
He was appropriately hard on poor leadership and mass inaction. Without being didactic or maybe it was unconscious, he attacked learned helplessness.
Politicians say a lot of things are not possible, but Wonder insists and proclaims otherwise. The people have to leverage political will to make things happen. Community and all good things are the possible. I don’t think you’d find a single person who would disagree with him this concert night or at any other time.
Wonder was there with us not just to entertain us, but to lift us up. Indeed, it’s fair to say his mission in life is to uplift people. He spoke both to Black folk and any folk. The message and audience for him are universal.
His bold remarks weren’t broadsides but very precise and practical – clear. His focus is always at the grassroots. He called on churches, mosques, and other places of worship to be cultural centers – particularly conduits to help children grow and mature.
When his comments addressed the confusion of our time (and the perpetrators thereof), he had this to say, "Haters might as well go on [if they continue hatin’] and go to hell." Youch!
But for the most part Wonder stayed on the positive. So it comes down to … and ends in this:
These three words
Sweet and simple
These three words
Short and kind
These three words.
Let’s take the time to find different ways to say and act upon: I love you.
David Whettstone is a public policy advocate, educator and writer who works at national and local levels, particularly in the areas of civil rights and criminal justice. Based in Washington, D.C., David recently finished an eight-year tenure as a religious lobbyist and advocate on Capitol Hill. A native New Yorker, David has studied in the areas of religion and theology, political science, and urban studies.