Is Stevie Wonder contemplating a run for office? The crowd gathered at Los Angeles’ Loews Hollywood Hotel for the 2017 ASCAP Expo wildly cheered the thought, which the legendary music-maker floated while sharing insights on his career and the current political scene during a speech on Saturday. “I’m practicing to become President myself,” he said while explaining his close association with the Obamas. “We’ll be building love bombs.”
Wonder accepted the inaugural “key of life” award from the performing rights organization, presented by ASCAP president Paul Williams, before some 2,000 attendees on Saturday afternoon. (The conference ran from April 13-15). He also participated in a keynote Q&A that included impromptu jam sessions, with moderator Janelle Monae occasionally providing backup vocals.
“People hating people because of their sexual preference, or the color of their skin or their religion — it’s just ignorance and stupidity,” said Wonder during the politically charged talk. “Thinking about these last 12 years, so many things happening in the world, we are left with the challenge of getting the world back to the right place. And we know consistently what has been so important in doing that is music.”
Putting actions to his words, the 56-year-old debuted a new song called “Where Is Our Love Song,” the music for which he wrote in 1971. The lyrics came to the father of nine more recently, inspired by world events that Wonder called “a heartbreak … all the negativity, the people that felt they wanted to make America great again when America already is great.”
The 25-time Grammy winner is no stranger to politics, with a catalog that runs deep on social issues, from the ghetto tableau of 1973’s “Living for the City” to the 1974 Nixon-era indictment “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” (which remixed as an anti-Trump statement became a web meme during the last election cycle). He played some of his 1973 song “Visions,” a commentary on failed efforts to create a Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday, during his Expo appearance. His 1980 song “Happy Birthday” is cited as a catalyst for congress passing the bill in 1983.
“Your contributions really did change the course of history,” said Monae, a six-time Grammy-nominated singer and founder of her own label, Wondaland. “Right now, the climate we’re in, with president 45 and the current administration trying to take us back, do you still feel like there’s still power in music the way there was?”
Wonder urged the audience of rapt listeners to “demand that people be accountable. Citizens have to be accountable; artists have to be accountable; leaders have to be accountable as well. Stop saying, ‘Can you believe what he said?’ ‘Can you believe what she said?’ Believe it! And say it’s unacceptable.”
Fellow Detroit natives were not immune from his canny assessments. “So many things are washed over, like our friend from Detroit who was appointed head of HUD,” he said referring to Ben Carson. “I don’t really get it. A brilliant surgeon, I’m sure a really smart man, but somewhere along the way, something got confused.”
The “key of life” award was created to celebrate Wonder’s “incomparable contributions to the world through his music,” Williams said, noting, “Stevie has deservedly been given every award imaginable, yet he continues to innovate and elevate the art of songwriting to the point where no honor can truly capture what he means” to songwriters and music lovers worldwide as well as his compatriots at ASCAP, where Wonder has been a member for more than five decades.
In the future, the “key of life” honor will be presented to songwriters and composers who best exemplify Wonder’s legacy “through their commitment to the art form he elevated through his talent, dedication, and unparalleled heart.”