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April 24, 2014

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Stevie Wonder's Legacy Revisited At The Apollo

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Stevie Wonder, Apollo, Spring Gala

Stevie Wonder is 61-years-old, looks to be in good health, and performing as strong as ever. At his most recent show, which took place Monday night at the Apollo Spring Gala in Harlem for his Apollo Legends Hall of Fame Induction, he bursts with as much energy as he did in the clips they showed of him performing when he was 12-years-old and better known as Little Stevie Wonder. His soaring alto was all there, his piano and harmonica playing as sharp as ever, and his song selection was making the woman sitting next to me raise her hand in the praise position every three minutes. Leaving the Apollo, though, there was something slightly sad about all the nostalgia.
A look at the songs performed last night and the year of their original release (all songs performed by Wonder except where noted):

"I Was Made To Love Her" (1967, performed by Raphael Saadiq)
"Higher Ground" (1973, performed by Melanie Fiona)
"Knocks Me Off My Feet" (1976, performed by Kim Burrell)
"I Wish" (1976, performed by Take 6)
"Love's In Need Of Love Today" (1976, performed by Yolanda Adams)
"For Once In My Life" (1967, performed by Tony Bennett and Stevie Wonder)
"People" (1964)
"Fingertips" (Part 1 & 2)" (1963)
"My Cherie Amour" (1969)
"Do I Do" (1982)
"Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)" (1970)
"Pastime Paradise" (1976, performed with Chick Corea, Paul Schaffer and Questlove)
"All I Do" (1980, performed with Doug E. Fresh)
"Living For The City" (1973)

The Spring Gala was a tribute to Wonder's entire career, so the set list made sense, but it begged the question: By asking our living legends to perform their "Greatest Hits" collection, as opposed to new material, are we putting them out to pasture too soon?

There is something noble in not waiting for an artist to pass before paying homage to their work, but something selfish in asking the artist to only perform the songs with which we grew up. This is not to say Wonder's show last night was flawed (it wasn't), it's an observation of how bottom heavy tributes can become, and they need not be, especially for a living legend like Wonder.

In 2005, Wonder released an album of new material, entitled 'A Time To Love.' On the album was his last single, "From The Bottom Of My Heart" (shown below) which peaked at number 25 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Chart according to Allmusic.com. The song is classic Wonder: simple but beautiful, proof that unlike some legends still living, Wonder can still craft a hit for a new generation of listeners.

Last night, Wonder didn't perform "From The Bottom of My Heart." As a matter of fact, he didn't touch one song he made after 1982, and considering the adult audience, it was a wise move. But those who grew up on Stevie shouldn't want to hold him to only the songs they grew up on, they should want him to continue his legacy with not only performances of his old songs, but the release of some new ones.

Wonder is at the point of his career where he could do no wrong, but not at the point where he could do no more. The question is would an older generation of Wonder fans let that happen?


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