MLK Holiday - Free Press Article 1986 Jul 24, 2006 21:50:02 GMT -5
Post by Emerald City on Jul 24, 2006 21:50:02 GMT -5
Wonder: 'A goal set, a goal met'
January 20, 1986
BY GARY GRAFF
Free Press Staff Writer
Almost six years ago, Stevie Wonder praised the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in a song that called for a "world party on the day that he came to be."
Today, he'll get that party.
The song was Wonder's version of "Happy Birthday," and in it, Wonder urged that King's birthday be celebrated as a national holiday.
Riding on the impetus provided by cities and states that have have observed King's birthday as a local holiday for years, Wonder helped organize a coalition of politicians, entertainers and other public figures to seek for King the same honor given former presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and explorer Christopher Columbus.
The law creating King holiday for federal employes passed Oct. 20, 1983, and is being observed this year for the first time. "I can only say, 'A goal set, a goal met,' " Wonder, 35, said with a grin while discussing the holiday during a recent visit to Detroit.
"I'm very happy," he added. "I'll celebrate it just really commemorating the people who made it happen ...people who feel their lives were really strongly affected by his life."
WONDER HAS acted as host and producer for "An All-Star Celebration Honoring Martin Luther King Jr.," a two-hour special to air at 9 p.m. tonight on NBC (WDIV-TV, Channel 4 in Detroit). He will preside over a cast of more than 25 celebrities including actors Bill Cosby, Elizabeth Taylor, Charlton Heston, Eddie Murphy and Cicely Tyson and musicians Bob Dylan, the Pointer Sisters, Neil Diamond, Harry Belafonte and Peter, Paul & Mary.
The King holiday celebration is the culmination of a long struggle and one in a a series of projects for Wonder.
Wonder, born Steveland Morris in Saginaw in 1950, grew up with Motown Records, for which he still records.
His '70s albums featured songs of protest ("You Haven't Done Nothin'," "Living for the City") and observation ("Big Brother," "Mister Know It All").
By 1980's "Hotter Than July" album, which included "Happy Birthday," he was using the songs to advance causes.
"Don't Drive Drunk" from his soundtrack for the movie "The Woman in Red" earned him a special citation from the State of Michigan for his efforts against drunken driving, and his new album, "In Square Circle," includes an anti-Apartheid song called "It's Wrong."
WONDER ALSO WAS one of the organizing forces behind U.S.A. for Africa, the all-star group whose song, "We Are the World," raised more than $42.5 million to help ease hunger in Africa.
"All of this has said to the world community, 'Take notice of the artistic community and the people who joined in a community to have one of the biggest, most successful fundraisers ever,' " Wonder explained. "It really is saying it's possible to do many things with our art form. Ultimately, it's setting the stage for the consciousness the world, saying that it's best if we come together to help each other through whatever problems we encounter."
Wonder said he first realized music could be used to accomplish good early in his career, when Motown image-makers hailed him as a prodigiously talented teenager, capable of playing numerous instruments and composing his own songs.
While the image-makers were promoting him, though, Wonder sat back and listened to what others were saying. Esther Gordy Edwards, sister of Motown founder and chairman Berry Gordy Jr., remembers Wonder on a 1963 European tour asking as many questions of reporters as they asked of him.
"He was such a deep thinker, and so correct in what he would say," Edwards said. "He's still that way. He wants not to hurt anybody and not to see anybody hurt."
WONDER EXPLAINED, "If you can watch TV and see that six children were burned in a fire or that thousands were killed when a volcano erupted and you can't feel that, there's something wrong inside yourself.
"I think I started feeling I could do something about all this back in the '60s, knowing that thousands upon thousands upon hundreds of thousands of people would come see the concerts. That kind of vibe told me it was possible to take some of that energy and use it for constructive purposes.
"The difference between what we did in the '60s and what we're doing in the '80s is that in the '60s, we talked about someday, and in the '80s young people are saying today."They're not going, 'It's a shame people are driving under the influence of alcohol.' They're saying, 'Let's end it.' We have to do that. We can't live in hindsight anymore."
But even though his own efforts in establishing King's birthday as a national holiday stand as proof of what musicians can accomplish, Wonder refused to be critical of colleagues who don't use their power.
"The point is that it's not like that's their job," he said. "It should be their pleasure. For those who aren't doing it, maybe they don't agree or don't feel it would be good for their careers. Then again, some might do it because they think it is good for their career.
"But you can't force anyone to do something. As long as you have a feel for it yourself, then it's legitimate. If I didn't feel for the things I'm involved in, I wouldn't be doing them."