“What I love about Stevie Wonder is the way he makes people feel,” says India.Arie. “He’s one of the best examples of how music can heal.”
Those comments from Wonder’s Motown labelmate captured the sentiment exuded throughout the Recording Academy’s second annual Grammy Jam. The three-hour-plus event saluting Wonder’s career was held Dec. 10 at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, staged in conjunction with the Entertainment Industry Foundation. Last year’s inaugural Grammy Jam paid tribute to Earth, Wind & Fire.
The music-filled evening opened with the 22-time Grammy winner singing his 1973 No. 1 R&B hit, “Higher Ground.” Among the diverse lineup of artists offering their interpretations of songs in the career of Wonder were Chris Brown, Jamie Foxx, Anthony Hamilton, Herbie Hancock, Hootie & the Blowfish, Kem, Mary Mary, Keb Mo, Tamia, Lizz Wright, Josh Groban, Jesse McCartney and George Clinton.
A major highlight was Wonder’s reunion with members of his famed backing group Wonderlove, including guitarist Ray Parker Jr. and singer Deniece Williams. Attendees included Olivia Newton-John, actress Jane Seymour, Prince, comedian/actor Damon Wayans and Motown chief executive Sylvia Rhone.
The finale was a mini-Wonder concert that featured songs from his Grammy-nominated current album, “A Time to Love,” as well as earlier hits. “The songs I’ve written have been from the deepest part of me and the deepest truth in me,” said Wonder in prefacing remarks.
In his opening comments, Recording Academy president Neil Portnow acknowledged the passing earlier that day of comedy icon Richard Pryor. He added that the five-time Grammy winner will receive a lifetime achievement award (“for a lifetime of laughter”) during the Grammy ceremony on Feb. 8. Portnow noted that Pryor and his wife Jennifer were told of the board of trustees-voted honor in November.
Presented by Mercedes-Benz USA, Grammy Jam helps advance music and arts education. This year’s event benefited such nonprofit organizations as the GRAMMY Foundation, InnerSpark/California State Summer School for the Arts and the Museum of Contemporary Art.