Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” and “Higher Ground” were staples of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. The musician played at the Democratic National Convention the night Obama accepted the nomination, and performed at the pre-Inauguration Lincoln Memorial concert and one of the inaugural balls.
Now Wonder is readying for another big Washington gig: he’s receiving the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize for Popular Song and the First Couple will host a concert in his honor at the White House on Feb. 25.
But this is more about the music than politics -- Wonder was tapped for the award in September, about a month before Election Day.
The Gershwin Prize is fitting tribute to Wonder, who burst on the music scene in 1963, billed by Motown as “the 12-year-old genius,” blowing away audiences with his harmonica playing, singing and infectious energy on “Fingertips – Part 2.”
But he proved, of course, more than a one-hit Wonder. He went on to write and record such landmark albums as “Innervisions” and “Songs in the Key of Life,” earning 22 Grammys and an Academy Award, among other honors.
Wonder’s woven a great story by overcoming more than few odds, and pushing musical boundaries beyond early pop successes. The work and the man endure – much like the career of the first Gershwin Prize winner, Paul Simon, who just played two triumphant concerts at New York’s Beacon Theater that shined as a showcase for a life’s ongoing musical journey.
For those not politically connected enough to be invited to Wonder’s Washington show, the concert will be broadcast on PBS the next day, Feb. 26.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.