'A Time to Love': Stevie Wonder's Musical Plea Farai Chideya talks with Stevie Wonder about his first album in 10 years, A Time to Love. The CD features duets with gospel singer Kim Burrell, soul diva India.Arie, Wonder's own daughter Aisha Morris and a galaxy of stars backing him up in the studio.

'A Time to Love': Stevie Wonder's Musical Plea

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ED GORDON, host:

Stevie Wonder is back with new music. "A Time to Love" is his first CD in 10 years. It features two songs with the next generation of Wonder, his daughter Aisha. For more on what the legendary singer had to say about the new project and why it took so long to produce, here's NPR's Farai Chideya.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

A decade after the release of his last album, Stevie Wonder is back with "A Time to Love."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) We have time for racism. We have time for criticism. Help ...(unintelligible). When will there be a time to love?

CHIDEYA: The title track is a duet with India.Arie.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. INDIA.ARIE: (Singing) We make time to debate religion, passing bills and building prisons, building fortunes and passenger ...(unintelligible). When will there be a time to love?

CHIDEYA: He told an auditorium full of journalists that the song is also a plea for peace in a troubled world.

Mr. WONDER: ...'cause we've had times of war and destruction, Depression, all these things, but we have never had consistently a time to love. And more than ever, we are in great need of that.

CHIDEYA: Wonder, now 55, released his first album at the age of 12. His hits have included love songs, descriptions of inner-city life and a history lesson about musical pioneers.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WONDER: (Singing) For there's Basie, Miller, Schimo and the king of all Sir Duke. And with a voice like Ella's ringing out, there's no way the band can loose. You can feel it all over. You can feel it all over...

CHIDEYA: Now, having released 35 albums and won 19 Grammys, he could easily add himself to that list and "A Time to Love" shows that Wonder still has a knack for putting politics into pop music. His 1980 hit helped make Martin Luther King's birthday a federal holiday.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WONDER: (Singing) ...to show just how much we love you and I'm sure you would agree, what could fit more perfectly than to have a world party on the day of King's B.

Backup Singer: Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday...

CHIDEYA: With "A Time to Love," Wonder urges artists to take responsibility for their lyrics.

Mr. WONDER: More than ever, there are those who are seeing the different--rather, the songs, rappers of songs, as kind of like leaders in a kind of way. So I think it's very important if you're making statements or taking positions, then you've got to stand up and do the right thing, like I did it with the gun control 'cause it's out of control.

CHIDEYA: The album also includes traditional ballads including two cuts with Wonder's daughter, Aisha Morris.

(Soundbite from "How Will I Know?")

Mr. WONDER: (Singing) If it ain't in the nick of time...

Ms. AISHA MORRIS: (Singing) ...first impression in your mind.

Mr. WONDER: (Singing) Do you know it does one thing?

Ms. MORRIS: (Singing) How will I know he loves me?

Mr. WONDER: (Singing) How will I know she cares?

Ms. MORRIS: (Singing) It's hard ...(unintelligible) to finally find you...

Mr. WONDER: (Singing) ...it's so easy to feel you there.

CHIDEYA: Father and daughter recorded "How Will I Know?" on a special day.

Mr. WONDER: Yeah, we cut the track on my birthday. So they did it live. It was amazing.

(Soundbite from "How Will I Know?")

Mr. WONDER: (Singing) Well, I have no problem waiting, waiting...

Ms. MORRIS and Mr. WONDER: (Singing) ...for true love forever find.

CHIDEYA: Wonder now plans to produce a full album of Aisha's songs. Of course, she already had a prominent guest-starring role in a classic Stevie hit.

(Soundbite of baby crying; song)

Mr. WONDER: (Singing) Isn't she lovely? Isn't she wonderful? Isn't she precious...

CHIDEYA: Wonder has seven children including a new baby boy, but that's only one reason this album took so long, he says. In the meantime, he's worked on projects including a tribute album to Luther Vandross', a man whose influence he says will last for centuries. Here's his duet with Beyonce.

(Soundbite of music)

BEYONCE: (Singing) Ooh, and I go.

Mr. WONDER: (Singing) I've got to tell you how you thrill me. I'm happy as I can be. You've come and changed my whole world. Bye-bye, sadness. Hello, mellow. What a wonderful day.

BEYONCE and Mr. WONDER: (Singing) It's so amazing to be loved. I'll follow you to the moon in the sky above.

Mr. WONDER: (Singing) Mmm ...(unintelligible).

BEYONCE: (Singing) And it's so amazing, amazing...

CHIDEYA: But most of all, Wonder simply won't release a song before its time. In fact, he got the idea for one track, "Please Don't Hurt My Baby" when he was 17 years old.

Mr. WONDER: I do remember down in my mama's basement on Greenlawn in Detroit, you know, that I was, you know, working on different things. I went, `Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa,' and I never forgot it. I did a track with some musicians of "Please Don't Hurt My Baby" but it wasn't time yet. It didn't work right. It wasn't happening. I'm very critical of, like, you know, when it feels right, when it doesn't feel right. I'm glad that I waited.

(Soundbite of "Please Don't Hurt My Baby")

Mr. WONDER: (Singing) And you could hear him moaning...

Backup singers. ...whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Whoa, whoa...

CHIDEYA: Wonder wants new listeners and longtime fans to take one thing from his album: compassion.

Mr. WONDER: Me, as an African-American man, if something happens to someone's child who is of another color or ethnicity than myself, I have to see and feel that pain for that child as if he or she were my own child. You know, I ask God to give me the words, to find things that I need to say and do my best.

CHIDEYA: Farai Chideya, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WONDER: (Singing) Some ask me why am I such an optimist when it's more fashionable to be a pessimist, from within 75 percent of what we read, hear and do. Well, I used to have a friend and a represent who used to always say when she was living like fine wine and like seeing the glass of life as half full and half empty.

GORDON: Thanks for joining us. That's our program today. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WONDER: (Singing) Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.

GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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