Stevie Wonder The one and only Stevie Wonder talks to Stretch, Bobbito and DJ Spinna about making music at Motown Records, pushing for the creation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and missing his friend Prince.
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Stevie Wonder

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Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder

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We're taking our show on the road in front of a live audience where you need to be. On September 7, we're sitting down with actress and activist Rosie Perez and her husband, artist and designer Eric Haze, at The Bell House in Brooklyn. Haze, by the way, did the logo for our podcast. On September 22, we'll be in Washington, D.C., speaking to Chef Jose Andres. You can buy tickets at Come out and hang.

STEVIE WONDER: Maybe at some point when we get together again, I can play like - play you some of the demos, like - with this song, it was originally was like - (singing) oh, little lady. Oh, little lady. I'd like to go there. Oh, little lady. Oh, little lady.


Oh, little lady? What the hell? What the - man. That would've never made it. That would've never...


GARCIA: That was not even happening.


BARTOS: Yo, yo, yo, everybody. This is Stretch Armstrong...

GARCIA: And I am Bobbito Garcia aka Kool Bob Love.

BARTOS: Welcome to WHAT'S GOOD WITH STRETCH & BOBBITO, your source for untold stories and uncovered truths from movers and shakers around the world.

GARCIA: Today's guest - Stevie Wonder.


WONDER: (Singing) And golden lady, golden lady. I'd like to go there. Golden lady, golden lady, I'd like to go there.

BARTOS: Stevie is one of the most brilliant and beloved musicians of all-time - a prolific songwriter, performer and political activist.

GARCIA: In a minute, we'll talk to him about all of his advocacy work outside the music game, how he creates pieces of art that are timeless. And we'll dig up some of our favorite Stevie records.

BARTOS: Before we welcome our guests today, we're joined by a close friend of ours - a world-renowned producer, record collector, DJ and Stevie Wonder evangelist - the one and only DJ Spinna.



GARCIA: So a little back story for our NPR audience who may not know who the wonderful DJ, producer that house and hip-hop and soul fans respect and adore so much. Spinna, you and I created this sort of Stevie Wonder homage called Wonder-Full, a tribute to Stevie Wonder. Share with our listeners how the Wonder-Full party started and what it represents.

DJ SPINNA: Well, the first inception of it was a small intimate party that happened - I want to say the year was 1999. And you and I were the musical co-pilots. And we went really hard into his catalog and did some research. And we were actually - it was a lot of friendly competition going on because we were like...

GARCIA: Well, it wasn't really a competition. I could never compete with...

DJ SPINNA: I said friendly. Friendly...

GARCIA: No, I...

DJ SPINNA: ...Is the key word because you got me on some records, Bob.

GARCIA: I did.


BARTOS: Also, that party really influenced a lot of other party-throwers and promoters and DJs because that was like the blueprint for the tribute party.

DJ SPINNA: It all started with Stevie Wonder-Full and...

GARCIA: And deservedly so. Like, if there was to be an inaugural tribute party to an artist that would live in the club space, why not Stevie Wonder?

BARTOS: Coming up next, Stevie Wonder.


GARCIA: Joining us now from his studio in Los Angeles, sitting at his keyboard, Stevie Wonder.

BARTOS: He's won 25 Grammys. Yes, that's 25. And he's the only artist to win five or more Grammy Awards on three different nights.

GARCIA: He's also in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He's sold over 100 million records worldwide. Should I sing over this?


WONDER: Do what you got to do.


GARCIA: Stevie.

BARTOS: Stevie.

WONDER: What's up?

BARTOS: Stevie, welcome to our show.

WONDER: It's my pleasure, truly.

GARCIA: I wonder if like, you know, you're dressed up right now in a white tank top and a do-rag - like, with some unlaced sneakers like, with some socks down to your ankles. Like...


WONDER: No, right now I'm looking really good, really good. Seriously, I'll send you a picture.


GARCIA: Thank you, my brother.

BARTOS: I'm curious to know if there's a side of you that you feel gets lost when you're facing the public. I mean, how is the Stevie Wonder the man different from the public persona?

WONDER: You know, amazingly, it's pretty much the same person. I mean, I can't say everything that I would say amongst my friends, but pretty much so, you know, it comes out the same way.

GARCIA: So, Spinna, you know Stevie Wonder pretty personally now. You've been to his house. You've been to his studio. How would you say Stevie Wonder's behind the scene?


WONDER: Spinna - watch your mouth, Spinna.

DJ SPINNA: Listen. Listen.


WONDER: You know the rules. You know the rules around here.


DJ SPINNA: He's a keep it real-er (ph). Let's just put it that way. He keeps it 100 percent all the time. You know, if it's on a personal level with friends, you may get a little more...

WONDER: Deeper, more to the point.

DJ SPINNA: Yeah, but it's always real deal. Always.

WONDER: In this time and place we're living in, where you never want to be spreading fake gossip, you just say it like it is. Tell the truth.

GARCIA: There it is. Well, listen. Stevie, I'm always so thrilled to think about the shift that you caused with your socially conscious lyrics. If we go back to the early '70s, when you really took over your writing, your composing - both at a spiritual level but also in a telling and revealing way of what was going on at the time - I think of the line from "Big Brother" where you say, (singing) you've killed all our leaders.

Pardon me for singing. I just can't help it. Spinna, don't stop me either, all right?

WONDER: You're in the wrong key.


WONDER: You were close. You actually - you were - (singing) you've killed all our leaders. I don't have to do anything, nothing to you.

This is in C, right? Yeah. I think this is in D flat. Yeah. (Singing) You've killed all our leaders. I don't even have to do nothing to you. You'll cause your own country to fall.

GARCIA: Oh, my God.

WONDER: It's too early to sing the octave above. I'm sorry.

GARCIA: No. Please don't apologize. But so, Stevie, was - what was the inspiration to say, you know what, I've sang about "Hey Love", I've sang about my fingertips.


GARCIA: Let me sing about what I know that's going on in my community and beyond to try to make an impression on my audience. Is there a singular moment there?

WONDER: You know, it's very similar to like what's happening to me right now. There's so much that's been going on that I've been seeing that I haven't released. I've been writing about them in my head and writing so many songs. So back then, obviously, I didn't write "Fingertips," but I did it and, you know, all the other songs I did, too. And, you know, the difference between then and now - back then, I had this tape bag that I carried around for years of melodies and ideas and all that kind of stuff. I had in that bag, you know, "My Cherie Amour" - the idea for "My Cherie Amour," the idea for "Hey Love." I had a chance to put the music - you know, to work with Henry Cosby and Sylvia Moy. It was the melodies and the music idea that I would give them. It was a great marriage, one that really made it possible for me to continue to be in Motown. Because I think by the age of 14 and a half, they had this meeting at Motown. They said, you know what? His voice is changing. And things are different. We don't know what to do with this kid. I think we're going to have to let him go.



BARTOS: At 14?

WONDER: And so...

GARCIA: Wait, is that when you were a (singing) little nappy headed boy?


WONDER: You know, I was a little nappy headed before that.


WONDER: But yeah, it was in that time, way before cornrows.


WONDER: And just for the record, the reason I got cornrows is because I was so tired of my mother combing my hair and it hurt.

DJ SPINNA: Really?

WONDER: Yeah. And I liked the way it felt. But it was that Sylvia Moy said, you know what? I think I'm going to commit to working with him if - Hank (ph), if you're with it. He's got some melodies and some things we want to kind of like mess with and see what we get. And so they did, and then we started doing stuff together. And then it was all those, you know, little Stevie Wonder - the Stevie Wonder - you know, young Stevie Wonder hit songs, you know, "Nothing's Too Good For My Baby" to "I Was Made To Love Her" - which is about a girl that I was crazy about named Angie.

But then I had the pleasure of hearing the synthesizer. And Motown had a Moog synthesizer in the engineering shop down in the basement. It was like, oh, man, this is magical. And then by "Talking Book," you know, there were other things that I wanted to talk about. And that's where we did "Big Brother." And "Big Brother" was really a lot of what had been happening that I had been seeing. I think I had read the book "1984." There were references to all that in the lyric, but I was seeing that there were things happening that history too much was repeating itself to the negative. And so I wrote about it.

BARTOS: Well, your work in politics isn't just limited to music. You really led the charge to make the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday, which was a 15-year-long process. What was - what were some of your most memorable moments from that experience for you - if any?

WONDER: I never saw it as, like, being political. I just saw it as being the right thing to do. I just felt that a man who had fought for the economic, social and civil rights for all people should be recognized for the greatness that he did and for those like himself who lived and died for that - should be recognized. And when people would say to me, hey, a black holiday, I said, no, this is a holiday for everyone. He was a black man. As I said, he was an African-American man. But I'm not looking at a color of a person's skin but, as Dr. King said, the content of their character. I just really believed that it was time to celebrate Dr. King.

And as opposed to being in the spirit of, oh, please - I ain't going to beg for it. You know, this is something that should just happen because, you know, it's for everyone. You know, it's for that farmer who is having a hard time. It's for that black man who is being - you know, there's prejudice against. It's for that Native American who really, you know, hosted the people that came here - not first, but they came here. You know, it's for - you know, in the spirit of all of the various people that have done great things. Because you see, for me, I've always felt that's in - you know, someone said it later, and it's exactly how I did feel - that it's not about, you know, the color of the skin, you know, your ethnicity. And it's not about your religion. It's about your relationship.

GARCIA: You know what? Stevie, I've always been blown away by the song "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing" because in the beginning, you're like todo esta bien chevere, right? And I'm like, yo, homeboy's speaking Spanish.


WONDER: (Singing) Todo esta bien chevere.

GARCIA: And then there was a recording of a live concert where the Fania All-Stars were rocking their anthem, "Quitate Tu." You jump on stage. You start playing keyboards.


GARCIA: And along this whole lines of identity, like, yo, are you Puerto Rican on the low? (Laughter).

WONDER: Well, you know, I'm all of it. I'm all of it. You know, I'm all of it, you know. (Singing) I'll never go back to Georgia. Never go back to Georgia.

No, you know, I've always been a lover of music. And the thing with "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing", when I did the demo, I was just, you know, saying some things. You know, I didn't speak Spanish. But that's, I think, part of the whole excitement of me being raised in the Midwest. You had radio stations that you have maybe a couple hours of Spanish music. You have some Italian music. You have some gospel music. You have some jazz. You have all these various varieties of music.

Now, you hear, you know, some Arabic stations. You hear all of the various, you know, accents. And so like, I never imagined that I would be going to these places, but I'll praise to God I was able to - being able to travel to so many places. And so that was me mocking sort of the sound of it. And then I remember the night I was going to do this song. And I just so happened to meet this girl named Rain (ph). And she was beautiful.


WONDER: And she worked at this record shop - this record store. And I'm like saying to her, hey, you know, it's amazing. You know, she sings. You know, she's Puerto Rican. I say, yeah, OK, well, you know, I'm doing a little thing and like a little something called "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing." You know...


WONDER: You know, what can I - I mean, give me something, something. I'll let you come to the studio if you have anything to say. I'll say some things, and it will be a wonderful day. And she said, todo esta bien chevere. And that's how I got that in a song. And, you know, we fell in love, and it was a beautiful thing.

DJ SPINNA: Stevie, I'd like to play you a live recording from the party back in 2008.




WONDER: OK, I'm going to give you the key right there. You all say (singing) oh.


WONDER: (Singing) Oh.


WONDER: Say (singing) Barack Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) Barack Obama.

WONDER: (Singing) Barack Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) Barack Obama.

WONDER: (Singing) We're going to change the world.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) We're going to change the world.

WONDER: (Singing) We going to get it right.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) We going to get it right.

WONDER: (Singing) Red.


WONDER: (Singing) Yellow.


WONDER: (Singing) Brown, black and white.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) Brown, black and white.

WONDER: (Singing) We're going to get the world right.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) We're going to get the world right.

WONDER: (Singing) By the grace of almighty God.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) By the grace of almighty God.

WONDER: I remember then, yes.

DJ SPINNA: Do you remember that? Do you remember...


WONDER: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.


DJ SPINNA: I hadn't heard that in a while myself. I'm like, wow. That was wonderful 2008.

GARCIA: At the Manhattan Center, Spinna and I were deejaying (ph) that night. We weren't quite sure if you were going to actually show up to the tribute party that were doing. So when you did, it was pandemonium. But then you got on the mic. And we didn't ask you to sing. You just did. And we didn't know what you were going to sing. And then you went into this advocacy for the eventual president.

WONDER: Well, you know, I knew that Barack Obama was going to become president. I knew that. And the funny thing about it is I met him a few years prior to that when he was running for senator. And he came to my studio - to Wonderland Studios. They wanted me to come in, you know, do a little performance in Chicago.

You know, I said, I like your spirit. And I like - you know, I feel the sincerity in your voice. And I said, I know that you're running for senator, but I see even more than that. So I wanted to just pray for that time that you'll become president of the United States because that's what I feel you're going to be. And we said a prayer. And that was wonderful.

Then he said, let me call my wife. Let me call Michelle. I'm going to call Michelle. She's going to be crazy. I just believed that he was going to be president. And there were those who, as we got closer to that time, said, you know, it's not going to happen. America is not ready - you know, and lots of people that I didn't expect would say that. But I understood their lack of confidence and their fear and their lack of faith in the conscious people of America.

And I felt that even more than the consciousness of the people, far more than the ignorance of those who didn't want to see it happen, I knew it would happen. I believed it because I felt that there was something that God had given him that he needed to touch the world with.

GARCIA: Hey, Stevie, I'm a recent parent. I have a 3-year-old. And he has reacted extremely well to your catalog when I play it at the crib (laughter). I know that you have children yourself. And there's a whole new generation of lovely human beings around the world that may not be familiar with your catalog or they may not even be familiar with who you are.

When you meet someone or when you're at a concert and you're hearing young voices singing your songs knowing that there's no way they were alive when those songs were released, what do you feel inside? What resonates with you?

WONDER: Oh, you know, it's - it brings tears to my eyes. You know, it brings joy into my heart. Even to hear my little daughters, Zaya and Nia, say I've got faith, you know, is amazing. To hear them singing, you know, different songs that I have done, I know they weren't born because, you know, it didn't happen yet. So I just - I just feel thankful. I just say thank you, God. Thank you, God. What more can I do? You know, what can I do more? You know, is there...

GARCIA: You've done plenty, my brother (laughter).

WONDER: I'm sorry?

GARCIA: I said you have done plenty, my brother.


WONDER: Yeah. But, I mean, I think that - you know, my thing is basically God. You know, when I think about it, I say, God, how can I make you even more happy? Because, you know, obviously, I'm appreciative of the fans and the success and all that, but to please God is my greatest joy. And for those who might be Muslim, you know, to please the God that you serve, Allah, or whatever your religion is. Like I said before, it's not about the religion. It's about the relationship.

And so my thing right now is I'm thinking, how can we deal with this situation where people are prostituting the most high with their negativity, with their evil? That hurts my heart so deeply. You know, and that's everywhere. And so, to me, the one thing you've heard through and through every religion is, hey, just love. Just love. You know, that's the most important thing. Just love. That's what's going to see us through.

So when I hear these little children singing my songs or singing songs or, you know, hearing those voices - and I think about those little kids in Manchester, you know, just going to see a concert. And then someone uses that as a source of their anger. It's unacceptable. I don't care who you are or where you're from. It doesn't matter. And for me, not seeing anybody, it means that I'm looking at their souls, and I'm saying, wow. Am I getting too deep for y'all?

GARCIA: Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, you good, you good (laughter).

DJ SPINNA: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. We're good (laughter).

BARTOS: Love it, love it. Stevie, over the years, we've seen you honor various musicians who have passed at different memorial services, including Michael Jackson and Prince. With Prince, once you knew that you were going to be a part of that celebration, what was going through your mind? What were you anticipating? And what, if any, message were you trying to convey?

WONDER: You know, it was hard to - conveying a message because I was in so much pain - not saying that I wasn't with the others. But we had very recently talked, and talked about, you know, his future, and things that he wanted to do and how inspired he was with the things that he wanted to do. And, you know, it lets you know, hey, tomorrow is not promised to anyone. But, you know, you say, God, why? You know, why him?

You know, but we are not the controllers of life, and that's why people need to stop doing that - trying to control life. But I was - you know, it was just painful for me. And as much as we say, well, we've got his music, we've got their music, we've got their art, we got their this, we got their that, I would have loved to have had some more him and them.

DJ SPINNA: So I have a question. Does this, in any way, give you or put you under any kind of creative pressure, dealing with these losses - obviously, these people were close to you, as well - but musically, creatively, too...

WONDER: Move past it.

DJ SPINNA: And I know you're active. You're very active in the studio, and you're always making music and playing your instruments. But as far as putting music out there, like, does it make you feel like you need to thrust, in any way, a little more - like, harder and urgent - urgency, a sense of urgency.

WONDER: I mean, definitely, I want to try to give everything to all that I have done and finish all that is not concluded. But I have so many songs and so much music. I've been blessed so much - abundantly blessed with songs and music. So I, as opposed to thinking about, you know, let me hurry up, I got to, you know, I got to beat the race. I got to make it. I'm just thinking, let me just, you know, go forward and do my best, and hopefully, I'll get through a lot of the songs before I can't.

GARCIA: Well, Stevie, you have a huge collection of compositions that Spin and I have really tried to share with the public but that the public may not know because they know your Top 40 hits. But what bugs me out is that we have a song here that we're going to play for you, that you wrote for someone else but that was never released by you. Sami, hit that.


WONDER: (Singing) I can hear the sounds you don't remember, the sounds of birds in trees in harmony, chords being blown by a gentle breeze, making the perfect melody you left behind. Oh, hey, lonely. I can see the sun in late December and see forgotten treasures beneath the sea, tides that defeat identity washing away the beauty that was in your mind. Play along with our song, all right. Yeah, I can hear the sound you don't remember, the sound of birds in trees, harmony.

GARCIA: So you - now, you wrote "I Can See The Sun In Late December" for Roberta Flack. She released it. What happened? What's the process, Stevie, that - where you write all these songs over 40, 50 years, and you say, you know what? I'm not going - I'm just going just to shelf this one and keep it in my bag with my - the rest of my cassette tapes (laughter).

WONDER: You know, that song, there - I was working on that when I was working on "Innervisions." And I did cut it, but I didn't do anything with it because it didn't make "Innervisions." And I thought of, you know, releasing it - even, recently, putting it out. There's some things that I was thinking about even in this next project that I'm doing, which is going to be called "Through The Eyes Of Wonder" - of putting a couple of things out that I didn't release.

When I listen to my music, I listen as a listener. There're couple of things that happen. Obviously, when I write the songs, I'm singing the songs and doing the demo - that place. But then, when I work in the studio and I produce a song, I'm listening as a producer. And, you know, I have people - special - with me, like, listen and give me some feedback that I don't want to hear, you know? But...


WONDER: You know, (unintelligible) - shut up, be quiet. And - but, you know...


WONDER: And then - so then I got to, like, you know, sift through all that and decide, do I agree or not? Because there's a part that I'm seeing - the complete piece. I'm hearing - I'm hearing it all. And they're just hearing maybe this thing here. Well, maybe, I did a scratch vocal and I'm just saying some different things, none that make sense. I know the words, what they're going to do, how they're going to do. Maybe at some point when we get together again, I can play, like, play you some of the demos, like, when "Love's In Need."

GARCIA: Are you are inviting me and Stretch and Spin over to your crib to listen to demos?


WONDER: Maybe, you know? Like, with...


WONDER: ...With this song. It was - (unintelligible) was like, (singing) oh, little lady. Oh, little lady. (Vocalizing). Oh, little lady, oh, little lady. Old little lady? What the hell?


WONDER: What the - man. That would have never made...


WONDER: That would have never.


WONDER: That was not even happening.


WONDER: I think the fun is when you do get to kind of - feeling where you're going. And even if they may not get it or really understand or agree with you, when you're sure about it, you just know. Like, when I worked on "I Wish," when it was just called We're Rolling, you know? And I was like, (vocalizing) '84 - (vocalizing) want some more. So anyway, I was like...


GARCIA: Wait. Spin is crying right now.


GARCIA: You made him cry, Stevie.


BARTOS: Do you always have a keyboard handy when you do interviews?


WONDER: You know what? When I'm at my studio, I might have a keyboard.

BARTOS: Stevie, I think your music has been covered probably more than just about any other artist - definitely top 5 all time. I'm just curious - now, I'm not inviting you to speak ill of anyone. But was there ever a time when you heard a cover, and you were like, nah (ph)?


BARTOS: I don't think so.

WONDER: You know what? That's one thing I'll tell you - never.



WONDER: Meaning I'll never tell who and what song.


BARTOS: No, no. I wasn't expecting you to actually tell me who.


GARCIA: So then - wait. So, Spinna, is there a Stevie Wonder cover that you heard that you were just like, nah, why did you try? Don't even try.

DJ SPINNA: Yeah, I actually played it at one of the wonderful parties. And I said never again because I didn't preview it before. And I don't want to blow it up on NPR, you know? We can talk about that outside of this (laughter). But it was an embarrassing moment.


WONDER: But you know what? I'll tell you what I feel. For me, I just feel like - you know what? - that was their expression. And that was their - whatever they did, that's what they did. So it's an honor that they even wanted to do it, you know? I think more so it's when you're going to a club or somewhere and you hear someone singing like - (singing) oh, so love, well, the night I pray. Let us love, (unintelligible).

DJ SPINNA: Oh, my God.

WONDER: You like that, Stevie? Yeah, that's great, man. That's great. (Singing) The ribbon in the sky. You like that, Stevie? That's incredible.

GARCIA: (Laughter) Coming up, it's time for the Impression Session.


GARCIA: So, Stevie, we have arrived at one of our favorite moments in our show. It's called the Impression...

BARTOS: ...Session.

GARCIA: And here's how it works. We play a track. We say nothing about it. We just invite your response. And whatever it brings out of you, that's what we want to hear.

BARTOS: And this can happen during the song as its playing or after we fade it out.

GARCIA: OK. Stretch, you want to play the first one?

BARTOS: Yeah, let's do it.


FRANKIE PAUL: (Singing) Whoa, yes. Hey, I see worries in the dance, worries tonight. We see worries in the dance, worries tonight. Just another (unintelligible), just a dance with my daughter. Sometimes I just, I don't feel right. Sometimes I just don't feel all right. But the worries in the dance...

WONDER: I love reggae soul. You know, you - I don't care who it is. It makes me think of me being in Jamaica and, you know - or being in Montserrat with Paul, drinking a little red wine, you know?


GARCIA: (Singing) Red, red wine...

WONDER: ...And, you know, discovering different things in life.


GARCIA: That's awfully vague.


WONDER: You know.

BARTOS: Well, that composition was written and performed by the late Frankie Paul, who we lost recently.

WONDER: Oh, wow.

GARCIA: And the song's called "Worries In The Dance."

BARTOS: And I wasn't aware of the history that you two shared. He was inspired by you, apparently, after meeting you in Jamaica while in school. And apparently, from what I read - and you could correct me if I'm wrong - he expressed his interest in singing, and you encouraged him. And that inspired him to begin a very fruitful career as one of Jamaica's premier vocalists of the last 40 years.

GARCIA: Now, had he lost his sight when he met Stevie yet?

BARTOS: That's - yes, exactly. Actually, he's known as the Stevie Wonder of Jamaica.

WONDER: Well, we met because I came to Jamaica, and that was around the time that Bob and I did a concert together and went to the...

GARCIA: You're mentioning Bob Marley, just for our listeners who don't know who Bob is.


BARTOS: Not Bobbito.


WONDER: And I gave away some devices that made - this was a technology that allowed blind people to read, to be able to feel letters - print letters - that would come up in little pins. And we gave a few of them away when we came to Jamaica. And wow, it's amazing.

GARCIA: So Stevie, I have a song cued up for you. It's off a vinyl. It's a song...

WONDER: What's that?


GARCIA: Stop playing, yo. You know you had a 45 collection back in day - probably, still. You've probably got 45s in a bag that you carry around.

WONDER: Oh, man. You know...

BARTOS: (Laughter).

GARCIA: ...In a plastic shopping bag.



BARTOS: And Spinna wants them.


GARCIA: All of them. No, but I'm going to play you a song, Stevie. It's going to go a layer that's pretty deep and may make us all feel vulnerable. And we await your response to it, OK?



SYREETA WRIGHT: (Singing) Black maybe, or maybe you just talking trash. Black maybe, or maybe your color, I'd better not ask. You've seen the way they've done your boy, and your boy's still crying for days in and days out...


(Playing piano).

(Singing) Maybe you're green.


(Singing) Maybe, maybe - where are you now?

Yeah. Syreeta...

GARCIA: So, Stevie, for the listeners who do not know - of course, you do - that was the late Syreeta Wright. And the title of the song was "Black Maybe." You composed this song, produced the album. Syreeta collaborated with you on "Talking Book." Spin and I, we dug deep in your catalog. This one song, out of all the music that you've done, so intrigues me. It - I listened to it yesterday, and it moved me to tears - joyful ones, of course.

But I - it's like I can't listen to it and ever really grasp the true meaning of the lyrics because that just gets - and it's what happens with a lot of your music. I just get so lost in the emotion, and the mood, and the tone and the blues chords. And I just wanted to share with you, to bring you back to that moment that this was recorded, perhaps.

WONDER: Yeah, well, Syreeta was such a phenomenal talent. And she was far greater than even I realized. I mean, her voice was so much of what you hear today, the youthness (ph) of the voice, the spirit of joy of the voice, the wisdom of the voice. I don't know. I can't speak enough good news about Syreeta and her voice. And then I remember one night, I was listening to Syreeta and I started really crying about how much I missed her, you know, how much, you know, I wanted to be with her. You know, Syreeta died a few years ago now of cancer. And obviously, I didn't want to leave my family, but I just really wished that I could be with her again, be in her presence, just, you know, be in her essence, allow her to conclude what she had not finished. And we wrote some really good stuff together, good songs.

"Black Maybe" was one of the songs that I wrote for that first album that we did together. And it really was saying, you know, from my standpoint, the title "Black Maybe" comes from the fact that I believe - well, listen. It has been proven that civilization began in Africa. It's where the original people come from. And so everyone, whatever color they might be or ethnicity, originally their bloodline is black. So I don't care if you're the whitest white, brownest brown or whatever it is you are, listen; you got black in you. So in seeing that - because we all are part of the beginning of our civilization - it's saying, how pure is your heart?

How much are you really down with how people are being treated because of their color, because of their sexual persuasion, because of their religion, you know, because of their class? Because if you have negativity or evil in your heart for anyone, then you are not a child of the most high. You can't be. And that's why I say, again, as I said earlier, you know, at the end of the day, the world is just love. Just love. You know, challenge yourself to getting away from the negativity, the evils of life and just love.

GARCIA: Well, I tell you, Stevie, thank you for sharing that. And I encourage the entire NPR audience to find this self-titled Syreeta album on MoWest however you can. If you got to buy the vinyl, if you don't have a turntable, go out and buy a turntable (laughter) because this album, it really ranks in my top three albums of all time by any artist. And it...

WONDER: Really, you like it like that?

GARCIA: I do. I do.


WONDER: You like it like that?


WONDER: Oh, you don't like it.

BARTOS: He's like, oh, really? Oh, that's surprising.

WONDER: Way to go, Steve.

DJ SPINNA: He's patting himself on the back right now.


DJ SPINNA: Yeah, I did that.

GARCIA: But yeah, you know, it's something that I wish more people could be aware of. And perhaps after this show people will seek it out. But, Stevie, I want to thank you for your time.

WONDER: I want to thank you. I want to thank, you know, all of you for inviting me into your space. And obviously, when I come back to New York City we'll find the most incredible Ethiopian restaurant....

DJ SPINNA: Oh, my God.

GARCIA: Ooh, what?

BARTOS: Oh, you're talking my talk.

DJ SPINNA: That is my talk, too.

BARTOS: Bob and I just had Ethiopian food in Minneapolis last week. I'm ready for more. Thank you.

GARCIA: Thank you, Stevie.

WONDER: Thank you, all. And let's get together and talk again.

GARCIA: That's our show. This podcast was produced by Sami Yenigun, edited by Steve Nelson and N'Jeri Eaton, and the executive producer is Abby O'Neill.

BARTOS: And a big shout-out to our VP of programming, Anya Grundmann.

GARCIA: Special shout-out to Jessica Diaz-Hurtado for helping us produce last week's episode with Regina King. You should go check out that interview if you liked this one. You can listen on NPR One, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.


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