‘Let’s Show The World How To Love Again,’ Says Stevie Wonder At The House Full Of Toys Benefit.
“I’m going to be singing the entire time, so get ready,” one audience member joked to her seatmates at Stevie Wonder’s annual House Full of Toys Benefit Concert. But don’t worry.
Saturday evening, Wonder and his guests, which included Gregory Porter, Trombone Shorty, and Jody Watley, had everyone inside Los Angeles’ sold-out Microsoft Theater singing and dancing along to every note (Dec. 17). Even just hearing Wonder play a few notes on his harmonica in the wings before walking onstage with the evening’s musical director/longtime friend Rickey Minor was enough to send the audience into a frenzy.
House Full of Toys, presented by Wonder’s nonprofit We Are You Foundation, benefits children, people with disabilities, and families in need through the donation of an unwrapped toy by concertgoers. Trombone Shorty had attendees second-lining a la his native New Orleans when he joined Wonder onstage for an exuberant romp through “Sir Duke,” now in its 24th year. Prior to that, Jody Watley took fans on her own nostalgia tour, performing her 1989 R&B/pop hit “Real Love” before transitioning into “Christmas Time Is Here,” a classic from the traditional holiday special A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Meanwhile, Gregory Porter’s sonorous voice washed over the crowd with “Take Me to the Alley,” the title track from his 2016 album. “That’s what we’re here for,” Porter added later, referring to the hungry, homeless, and others facing life’s challenges. “That’s why I felt compelled to sing that song.”
Tina and Teddy Campbell, the John Paul McGee Trio with Amber Bullock, Kimberly Brewer, and Wonder’s daughters Zaiah and Nyah completed the lineup of performers. The pair danced together on “One Little Christmas Tree,” a holiday song Wonder recorded in the late 1960s, and later returned to sing along with their father on “The Christmas Song.” Lucky Daye was also scheduled to perform but cancelled due to illness.
The night belonged to Wonder, as it has in previous years for this holiday concert — and no offence to the guest stars who have appeared. The legend gave as good as he got from an already ecstatic audience, which grew even more ecstatic each time he sat at the keyboards or piano and simply sang. Early in the show, Wonder boosted the festive spirit that was already in the air by performing “What Christmas Means to Me,” singing to the original instrumental track recorded in the 1960s.
Wonder celebrated the 50th anniversary of his 1972 album Talking Book with a raucous sing-along to “I Wish,” one of his many classics. Starting with “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” he paid tribute to his late ex-wife and co-writer Syreeta Wright (“Such a wonderful spirit”) with the moving “Blame It on the Sun,” before closing the Book suite with an emotional rendition of “You and I (We Can Conquer the World).”
“I love all of you so much,” a tearful Wonder said after a standing ovation. I thank God for all of the songs I’ve written or co-written. You can’t spend one second entertaining the spirit of hate if you understand love… Let us show the world how to love once more.”
Wonder surprised the audience with a mini-concert as the clock approached 11 p.m. “Do I Do,” “I Love You More” with the aforementioned Brewer, “As,” “Ribbon in the Sky,” “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” “Living for the City,” and “Higher Ground” were among the songs on the set list. Closing with another Talking Book selection, the crowd-pleaser “Superstition,” Wonder invited his children and the entire concert staff onstage.
“I wanted to give you everything I could give you…,” Wonder said as he walked offstage to “Another Star.” I adore you; God bless you — and we’re finished!
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