Legendary singer-songwriter and humanitarian Stevie Wonder, a recipient of 25 Grammy Awards and an Oscar winner, made a special announcement last week at a press conference he held about this year’s 22nd annual House Full of Toys Benefit Concert featuring the Stevie Wonder Song Party: A Celebration of Life, Love & Music at Staples Center Dec. 9.
Wonder’s announcement was made before a packed house of journalists from across the world.
As I sat wondering what the announcement would be, I was praying to myself that Wonder would not announce his retirement from music, which some other legendary artists such as Anita Baker and others have done earlier this year.
Within minutes, Wonder walked out from backstage and was escorted to his piano and microphone and began to speak in personal terms. Wonder spoke about the death of his younger sister Renee Hardaway earlier this year.
I could hear the pain in his voice as he talked about how the loss of his sister had impacted him. Wonder then spoke about the tragic fires in the Calabasas area and how many of his family members and others who live in that area had been adversely impacted.
“This year, the holiday season will not be joyful for some in our California family,” Wonder said. “Many lost lives, property and dreams. Imagine a holiday after this tragedy.
“And so this year, I am combining my annual House Full of Toys Benefit Concert featuring Song Party, a celebration of life, love and music, with my House Full of Hope,” Wonder said.
I sat there relieved. Wonder was not retiring from music, but instead was on another mission of giving and helping those in need. And I wasn’t surprised. That’s who Wonder is. That’s how he has always been.
In a prepared statement that was handed out to the media more details were shared.
“Along with the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), our goal is to raise money in support of all those who suffered loss to the catastrophic fires, to support the amazing firefighters who worked so hard to save lives and homes, and to support the first responders who are always there when we need them,” the statement said.
“We are deeply grateful to Stevie Wonder for giving the gift of his extraordinary music to support those in need this holiday season,” said Entertainment Industry Foundation’s President & CEO Nicole Sexton. “Like Stevie, we are humbled by the work of California’s courageous firefighters and first responders. We are proud to support them through EIF’s crisis response program, Music for Relief, and honored that Stevie has chosen them as one of the beneficiaries of this event.”
“This is the 22nd time our city will be celebrating the joy of giving in the spirit of song and will make this night such pleasured fun for the old and young,” Wonder said.
Wonder is one of the most critically and commercially successful musical performers of the late 20th century. He signed with Motown’s Tamla label at the age of 11 and he continued performing and recording for Motown into the 2010s. He has been blind since shortly after birth.
Among Wonder’s works are singles such as “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” “Superstition,” “Sir Duke,” “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” and “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” and albums such as “Talking Book,” “Innervisions” and “Songs in the Key of Life.”
He has recorded more than 30 U.S. top 10 hits and has sold more than 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the top 60 best-selling music artists.
Wonder is also noted for his work as an activist for political causes, including his 1980 campaign to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a holiday in the United States.
In 2009, Wonder was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace. In 2013, Billboard magazine released a list of the Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Artists to celebrate the U.S. singles chart’s 55th anniversary, with Wonder at number six.
Wonder is also the owner of KJLH Radio Station and, through his station, has given a voice to our community to be informed and discuss serious issues. As someone who has been blessed over the years to have walked with and held conversations with such world icons such as Muhammad Ali, Michael Jackson, Rosa Parks and President Barack Obama, Wonder, for me, has been someone I have the highest regard and respect for.
I first met him more than two decades ago in Leimert Park at the World Stage. I was so excited and could barely contain myself.
Wonder, who I had idolized since I was a child, was in the same room and I was just a few feet from him. I waved my hand and gestured to Ron, his security and driver for the day, if it was OK if I said something to Wonder as we both exited the building. Ron nodded yes. And I spoke to Wonder, introducing myself and thanking him for his music and activism which inspired myself and countless others worldwide.
I was shocked when Wonder knew who I was and said he listened to the KJLH Radio morning talk show “The Front Page,” then hosted by Carl Nelson. Wonder said he was an early riser and listened in to the show at times. I was a frequent guest on the show, talking about activism in our community and what the pressing issues were. I was humbled.
I eventually had one of the most memorable experiences of my life as I was able to sit in as co-host of “The Front Page” a few years later with Wonder and its current host, Dominique Di Prima.
Wonder is someone who loves and cares about people. He has proven it with his time, money and relentless activism. Wonder is out in public quite often and I have had the pleasure of talking to him every time our paths have crossed. He is one of the nicest people you will ever meet.
I look forward to donating and giving to Wonder’s “House Full of Toys,” which will benefit children, people with disabilities and families in need. Wonder’s We Are You Foundation, is a nonprofit organization. The toy donations allow the station to continue serving the children of our community, especially in such a time as this, so they are mobilizing to help bring smiles to kids across our communities.
The need is great, especially for the older kids, 12-17 You can bring gift cards, tablets and electronic devices. Just help us serve them as well as the young ones. With your help, KJLH can fill many houses full of toys this holiday season.
If you can’t make it to the concert, just drop off your toys at the studios of KJLH at 161 N. La Brea Ave. in Inglewood or wherever you see the KJLH Street Team.
On a personal note, there are many worthy causes to donate and give to. But Wonder’s concert and toy drive is personal for me. Over the past two decades of my being connected to KJLH and volunteering at this toy drive, I’ve seen firsthand the children Wonder and everyone who donates have helped. I’m looking forward to being with and supporting Wonder again.
This year as part of Stevie’s House Full of Hope, supporters are asked to donate to EIF’s Fire Fund at www.musicforrelief.org/hope or text GIVE25 to 50555 to make a $25 contribution.
Also, concertgoers are asked to bring an unwrapped toy or unwrapped gift of joy on behalf of House Full of Toys to benefit children, people with disabilities and families in need.
Tickets are on sale now at AXS.COM.
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By Najee Ali