I’ve heard that when you meet Prince, time stops—that his very existence finds a way to take over you, briefly paralyzing your thoughts. I don’t know how true that may be, but I know I felt a similar feeling upon meeting Stevie Wonder—or as I now like to call him, Uncle Stevie.
The legendary musician, singer, songwriter, record producer, and multi-instrumentalist (G.O.A.T) served as a (very) special, surprise guest at last month's #JUSTICEFORFLINT benefit concert at The Whiting in Flint, Michigan. While I’d heard early in the day—from the grapevine—that he’d be there, I didn’t know for sure how true that piece of information was. And so, I contained every bit of excitement that began to flourish as the likelihood of meeting Mr. Wonder circulated my busy mind.
He remained concealed until the end of the night and by then, I’d honestly forgotten about the possibility. As Janelle Monáe began to close her set, a crowd began to form backstage and within seconds, I knew why. It was him. The rumors were true. Stevie Wonder was being escorted to the stage.
He “watched” Janelle—if he can say it so can I—from the side of the stage and waited for his cue.
The moment was beautiful and so was he, in every way imaginable.
Within minutes of the show’s conclusion I was called over to, not only meet him, but shoot him (not like that).
As I briefly stepped back to take in the moment, I noticed something. His energy was radiant and shined a light I’d never before known. What a time…
I couldn’t have stuck around for more than 20 minutes, maybe 15, as the venue began shutting down. Of course, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want more time; more time to ask Mr. Wonder about his life, his legacy, his purpose, the list goes on. Because when you have the chance to speak to a legend like Stevie Wonder, it goes beyond music or a press interview. But, the truth is that in those 20 minutes Stevie blessed me with enough answers and life lessons to hold me over until our next encounter. In the meantime, I figured I’d share what I learned thus far from the icon.
Until next time Mr. Wonder.
1. Community. In times of tragedy, desperation and need, community matters. As Stevie took the stage to briefly touch on the Flint water crisis, he emphasized the power behind coming together. And just to prove it, there he was. His presence served as a reminder that it is our duty, respectively, to act—no matter we’re you’re from, what color, gender or creed you are. Community extends itself beyond imaginary lines that geographically set the divide. On that night, he reminded me that “united we stand, divided we fall.”
2. Humility. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think Stevie was just as happy to meet me as I was to meet him. And that very well might be true (highly doubted). Not that I expected Stevie Wonder to be a grouch, or anything less than a wonderful acquaintance, but damn. First thing’s first, he didn’t have to accept me as company and yet he humbly did, evening allowing me the privilege to snap a couple of photographs. Upon entering his dressing room, I was greeted with a smile and vibrant energy from the man himself; Stevie Wonder, which still seems surreal. Not to say other celebrities have been anything less than kind, but for a moment—even if for half a second—I almost forgot I was talking to the legend that is Stevie Wonder. He taught me right then and there that humility makes all the difference and has the ability to empower another being.
3. Comedy. While addressing the audience, Stevie explained that he’d been watching the show. He emphasized “watching,” pulling a laugh from his audience. Life’s too short to be bitter. Laugh a little. Smile more, and stuff.
4. Style. The definition. He mixed his with a message. He sported a deep red two piece. Engraved on it was a baby blue letter “B,” some brail text and a red heart. One curious question revealed a telling answer. “Well, that’s a B and that’s a heart. Put it together,” he instructed. "Be love." Oh Uncle Stevie… We confuse style with fashion when really it should be a representation of who you are. Pay attention. You are what you wear.
5. Grace. There’s something about experiencing the smile of Stevie Wonder that no photo will ever be able to provide. It’s genuine and exudes love and grace in every way imaginable. It does not boast, it is sincere and teaches the greatest lesson of all; in life there will be obstacles and some will be more difficult than others, but positivity and perseverance trump all. Stevie’s smile literally blasts miniature rays of love towards its onlookers. And then there’s the way he moves and carries himself. Flawless (no Beyoncé). As I directed him towards the opposite side of the room for a different angle—at this point we were shooting–he felt for the chair he knew was near him, turned it around and sat on it in the coolest way possible. “Okay!” I reacted to Stevie’s newly discovered swag, not knowing he had it in him. Not that I underestimated him, of course, but I’d be lying if I said I expected that move from him! And just like that I was exposed to a different type of grace; not the kind that clumsy people (such as myself lacks), but the kind that’s deeper than the physical.