Fair Wonder: Recording Academy Concert Honors Stevie Wonder

When the Grammys throw a post-awards party to honorStevie Wonder, just about everybody shows up.

Photo: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
“Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life – An All-Star Grammy Salute,” at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live in Los Angeles.

That’s as it should be for Wonder, 64, who wanted the artists honoring him at a tribute concert to be a “wide spectrum” that reflected the array of music he’s created in his remarkable career.

He got his wish. “Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life – An All-Star Grammy Salute,” airing Monday on CBS (9-11 p.m. EST), includes performances by Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Pharrell, Annie Lennox, Ed Sheeran, Tony Bennett, Babyface and Andrea Bocelli.

In a phone interview before the concert last Tuesday, Wonder talked about social justice, fairness for artists and a new album, Through the Eyes of Wonder, he plans to release by September.

Providing occasional background music: His 2-year-old daughter issuing a request for apple juice and offering a bubbly, “Hi, daddy!” to her celebrated parent.

AP: What does the Recording Academy’s tribute mean to you after many other accolades?

Wonder: I feel thankful to God, first and foremost, allowing me to enjoy this ‘smell the roses’ kind of thing. All I ever wanted to do was music, and all I’ve ever asked, as I’ve gotten to know and discover the world more, is that God would use me in any way to encourage and inspire love and inspire people to bring and give love to each other. … I’ve always asked to be able to speak and write about injustice and to do it in a way that would encourage people to make things better for everyone.

Given the protests after police shootings in Ferguson, Missouri, and other cities, do you see progress?

We’re stuck in fear and in not wanting to cross that most important bridge of understanding that we’re more alike or not. We all cry, we all laugh. … We know the things that are not good and are right. Those things that we know are wrong, we’ve got to fix them.

What is the fear you refer to?

Living in the zone of ‘I’ve got to make sure I’ve got more.’ … We have to want the same thing. I’ve got to want the same thing for your son or daughter I would want for mine. I’ve got to make sure that your son is as educated as mine, or vice versa. We’ve got to make sure we all live in communities that are safe. We’ve all got to feel there’s a non-existence of ‘driving while black,’ ‘driving while brown,’ ‘walking while black.’ … We want to see equality.

Will songs on your new album address these concerns?

Since the last album I did was about 10 years ago, a lot has happened. I’m hoping to show what I’ve seen and I’m hoping it will encourage people to move to the next level that will give us a place of positivity. How long have we been talking about the planet and what we’ve got to do? The fact that we’ve had the tragedy (in Newton, Connecticut), that’s a wake-up call. … We’ve got to have fewer people be silent and do something by their actions, by how they vote. I just think that we’re in a time when we have to put some action behind that mouthpiece that we have.

You don’t sound like a man resting on your laurels.

No, I can’t do that. I’ve got children to feed – I’m kidding. But I’ve got children, so they’re always inspiring me with songs and new ideas. So I’m going to be doing this thing for a long time. I love it. I love music.

Are new ways of music distribution, such as streaming, fair to artists?

Wonder: unacceptable. My desire (is to see) the emphasis being put on the quality of the sound of the music and the music experience. Different artists are talking about the laws that exist and how they need to be fixed so that compensation does happen to a far fairer level. And I agree with that. You hear people saying all the time, ‘This is a song we got married to.’ ‘This is what we had our first dance to.’ … People love to hear music on their personal devices, but the issue really becomes, if you’re able to download music, you should know this download and the quality of it is going to be of the highest, and that it has a value to it and on it.