Stevie Wonder Drops Keys To Songs & Life In A Chat With Stretch & Bobbito (Audio)
Starting with the extra-melodic strains of “Golden Lady” taken from his 1973 masterpiece, Innervisions; a drum-roll and then lots and lots of laughter; these sounds set the interview with Stevie Wonder, broadcast on the Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito’s What’s Good show on NPR today (August 30).
Stretch & Bobbito, the legendary New York DJs whose late-night radio program broadcast the soundtrack for the nascent Hip-Hop movement back in the ‘90s, were aided by DJ Spinna, the Brooklyn DJ, producer, remixer, and member of Jigmastas.
In the almost hour-long interview, Wonder recalled how he used to carry around ideas for his songs in a bag, filled with cassette tapes; why he got the cornrows (he was sick of his mother pulling his hair) and his 15-year-long fight to establish the Martin Luther King national holiday.
“People would say to me, hey, it’s a Black holiday,” Wonder recalled. “And I’d say, no it’s a holiday for everyone. He was an African-American man, but it is a holiday for everyone. It’s for everyone who is having a hard time, it’s for the farmer, for the Black man who experiences prejudice, for the Native American…[But] it’s in the spirit of all who have done great things.”
The skill of the interviewers came through by the way they kept shifting the mood, between the lighthearted and introspective with Stevie Wonder remembering, for example, his deep feeling of grief after the death of his friend Prince last year. “I was in so much pain, I had recently talked to him about future events…the things he wanted to do,” Wonder said, before adding that “tomorrow is not promised anyone, we are not controllers of life.” Yet his loss was palpable in the way he said that despite Prince’s extraordinary musical legacy, it meant very little to him as he missed his friend.
A live recording from 2008 had Stevie Wonder leading the crowd in song, calling out the name of Barack Obama, but Wonder said that his connection with the former President predated this and then he knew from their first meeting that Obama was destined for the Presidency.
The final moments of the interview were extremely poignant where the hosts played tracks from Stevie Wonder’s musical partner and former wife, Syreeta Wright who co-wrote many of the tracks on his first independently produced record, Music Of My Mind and then on Talking Book.
Wonder expressed his desire to be with Wright before she died of cancer in 2004, how he wanted to be with her again and “be in her presence [and] her spirit of joy…to allow her to conclude what she had not finished.”
Wonder then spoke about the song “Black Maybe” that he wrote for Wright’s 1972 record, Syreeta. “Civilization began in Africa, so everyone whatever color they might be, or ethnicity, originally their blood-line is black,” he said.
The real question, Wonder argued, is how “pure” your heart is. Stevie asked, are you “really down with how people are being treated because of their color, because of their sexual persuasion, because of their religion, because of their class?
“Because if you have negativity or evil in your heart, you are not a child of the Most High, you can’t be,” he said, to then conclude: “At the end of the day, the world is just love. Just love. Challenge yourself to get rid of your negativity, the evils of life. Just love.”