It was a covert operation worthy of the Navy SEALs.
In a little more than 36 hours, Stevie Wonder and his management and publicity teams succeeded in collaborating with three U.S. city governments to plan and execute the free, one-day pop-up concert series of the summer.
Hundreds of Washington, D.C., workers played hooky from their jobs Monday morning with their families for a chance to hear and see the national treasure blaze through a short set of classics just after 10 a.m. at the D.C. Armory. Beginning with “Love’s in Need of Love Today” and ending with “As,” and including a cameo from bandleader and harmonica master Frédéric Yonnet, Wonder also engaged in a 20-minute Q&A segment with reporters—giving a shout-out to President Barack Obama, ailing former President Jimmy Carter and the late civil rights activist Julian Bond—before flying to Philadelphia for a 3 p.m. show featuring local artist Jazmine Sullivan and, finally, reaching New York City for a 7 p.m. concert. Free tickets, available online, for the afternoon and evening shows were gone in under a minute.
“First of all, I just want to say I love you and thank you for everything you’ve done for me [as fans],” the Motown legend began humbly, his quiet voice piercing through the shrieks of excited fans, before revealing the reason for the shows: a new 20-date tour to conclude the Songs in the Key of Life trek he launched last year. “It’ll be the last time I perform that album in the United States,” the musical giant continued, to a mixed bag of cheers and groans, before entertaining questions from reporters.
Capitalizing on his diverse audience, the longtime activist engaged in a conversation on pivotal community issues ranging from gun violence and police brutality to his desire to launch a nationwide Claim the Bullet campaign. “It seems that people have become numb to seeing [the stories about violence] on TV or reading about them on the Internet,” he explained, “and that’s unacceptable, it really is. And so the thing is, at the end of the day, it’s all about life and going about it in the spirit of love,” said Wonder, who shared that he’d recently read the self-help book The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz.
“Everyone should be accountable and responsible for the guns that they have, because you can’t bring a life back after you take it,” he continued. “And for those who have the responsibility of protecting and serving, they have to be people that really are committed to doing something to perpetuate life, not take it.”
Wonder, who said he chose D.C. for the tour kickoff because he has family there and has long considered the city to be one of his homes, also voiced his support for the Black Lives Matter movement. “We all know that since the very beginning of civilization, the first people in existence were black people,” he said. “That is a fact. All people of all cultures know this. So I think if we don’t value the beginning, we can’t value anything.”
Wonder and his 22-piece band are expected to play D.C.’s Verizon Center Oct. 3.
Tomika Anderson is a freelance writer, editor, producer and military brat who has traveled to 36 countries and counting. Follow her on Twitter.