Black History Month 2017 Retro-Post: Stevie Wonder’s Support for Dr. Martin Luther King Holiday
I mentioned Stevie Wonder’s support for making Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday a holiday in my MLK post.We are celebrating his holiday soon in 2017. Here’s a previous post.
Gil Scott Heron’s autobiography-memoir The Last Holiday provides an up close and personal eyewitness report through this well known singer/ poet/activist/prose author’s eyes.1
Several of the book’s chapters reminisce about Stevie Wonder’s October 1980 “Hotter Than July” album tour that included Wonder’s January 1981 rally in Washington D.C. with a focus on the national debate over whether or not to honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King with a holiday, provide personal, socio-cultural and political context for Stevie Wonder’s commitment to the “holiday” movement.
Chapter 38 sets the record straight about an article review on an Oakland California show which accused Stevie Wonder and Scott-Heron of not mentioning or caring about the death of much loved and respected ex-Beatle and successful solo artist John Lennon .
According to Heron, while on the “Hotter Than July” tour, Stevie Wonder met Heron at the bottom of the stage stairs where they were performing. In sadness, he quietly told Heron about Lennon’s murder. Wonder seemed almost in shock and was also greatly troubled about John Lennon’s death. He gave an on stage passionate speech addressing the tragedy around 11:30 PM during the concert. States Heron:
“Later, I could not remember us playing those last two songs, though I was sure we had. I could only bring back the three solid images of that night, two of Stevie: the first one was of the brother standing there waiting for me at the bottom of those stairs. The second was of him standing alone in that spotlight, crying. And the third was of me standing there next to Santana with our eyes sweeping the floor as though there was really something to look for. 2
The article was negative and blasted Wonder and Scott-Heron for a racialized hypocrisy lack of caring for those who were not African American. It distorted/spun the facts for readers of the article; as related to his readers, Gil Scott-Heron notes, “It implied that because I was Black and Stevie was Black and John Lennon was White and therefore not a “Soul Brother,” that there had been no mention from the stage about the murder. . . It’s all about the deadline . . .In order to get that article in the paper this morning the reporter had to leave by 11:00. And Stevie didn’t start talking until 11:30.”3
Here’s a bit more information from the web.4 Stevie Wonder-Martin Luther King Day
To those of you for whom Stevie Wonder and Gil Scott-Heron are a part of a vague Black history month memory from a paragraph about Civil Rights in your high school textbooks . . .. this is encouragement to do more research, help bring light to some of the vagueness.
Today, we often sing the chorus of this birthday song to our family and friends. Here is Stevie Wonder singing the “Happy Birthday” song in another commemorative context: For Nelson Mandela.
A joyous serious celebratory salute, embedded in a fun song.
Black History month? As I said on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DeloresFisher/status/563057482483105792
1. Heron, Gil Scott. The Last Holiday. “Chapters 30-39″ (New York, New York: Grove Press, 2012 ) 224-292. Often cited for his groundbreaking poem,”The Revolution Will Not be Televised” 1st premiered to the general public on the album Gil-Scott-Heron- Small Talk At 125th and Lennox in 1970, the poet sprang into America’s consciousness and performed for a following that grew into a national and international audience. GilScott-Heron’s memoir was posthumously published. The publisher notes on p 316 reveal that one purpose of this edited manuscript was to document Stevie Wonder’s role in the establishment of a national holiday to celebrate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy.
2. Ibid., 281-282.
3. Ibid., 282.
4. Short but to the point min-biography of the events” Biography website http://www.biography.com/people/stevie-wonder-9536078/videos/stevie-wonder-martin-luther-king-day-3270723700.