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16. Making The Dream A Reality

Martin Luther KingStevie worked with king's widow, Coretta Scott king and John Conyers the congressman who sponsored the bill. He attended the January 1981 parade in Washington in support of the bill, addressed the crowd and chanted the Happy Birthday anthem. During the next year a strategy was developed for mobilising national awareness and development of a legislative agenda for presentation on Capitol Hill. In January 1982, despite inhumane weather conditions, Stevie was joined by a 50,000 strong crowd, and supported at the podium by Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, Jesse Jackson and Gil Scott-Heron at a peaceful rally demanding a day of recognition. I know you've been standing in the cold for a long time, Wonder told the crowd, but I hope your spirits are warm. I hope your spirits are hotter than July. Dr. King left an unfinished symphony which we must finish.

Although Stevie was rather inactive in the studio during this period, he did find time to collaborate with the reggae band, Third World and ex Beatle Paul McCartney.

In 1982, Stevie appeared at the annual Reggae Sunsplash Festival in Jamaica. That year the festival paid tribute to Bob Marley who had died a year earlier. Stevie was joined on stage by the group Third World and Rita Marley to perform Masterblaster (Jammin') and Marley's Redemption Song. After their performance Stevie suggested that he write some material for the band's next album. The result was the hit single Try Jah Love and the socially aware, You're Playing Us Much Too Close.

Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartneyThe more high profile collaboration that year was his teaming up with Paul McCartney. McCartney recording his album in Montserrat came up with the song Ebony and Ivory. Thinking it would be a good idea to make it into a duet with a leading black artist he invited Stevie to be part of the project. Though the message of the song was poignant, the critics were not to kind to what they referred to as a trite message. The song however zoomed to the top of the US and UK charts, the first time Stevie was able to reach that position in the UK, albeit on the vehicle of a Paul McCartney song. The pair also co-wrote and cut another song for Paul's Tug of War album called What's That You're Doing? With Stevie on synthesizers and drums and Paul on bass, the pair crafted an exhilarating track with their instruments and voices spontaneously interchanging in what resulted in the best track on the album.

However Motown was getting wary of the lack of material for Stevie's own records and decided to release a greatest hits double album called Stevie Wonder's Original Musiquarium I. The album mainly comprised tracks from the Music of My Mind - Hotter Than July period, with some remixed. It also included 4 new songs, each ending a side of the vinyl LP - Frontline a rock inspired ant-war theme, the jazzy ballad Ribbon In The Sky, the slyly melodious That Girl and the closing ten-minute extravaganza Do I Do, featuring Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet and Stevie rapping during its finale.

Stevie WonderStevie's contract had now come to an end, and there was speculation that Musiquarium was released to fulfil the conditions of the previous deal. The new contract was more low-key than the previous, no speeches, and no disclosures of monetary value.

The eighties saw Stevie maturing and no longer viewed as a driving force in the music industry. In addition the video era was now born, and Stevie strengths were not exactly suited for this medium. He now spent more time on political and social issues and working with other artists than making records for himself.

It was at this time that Stevie bought the radio station, KJLH in Los Angeles and in 1983 started his own record label called Wondirection. The debut release on his label was the The Crown, a rap record produced by Stevie and performed by Gary Byrd who wrote the lyrics, with Stevie supplying the music and adding a beautifully sung bridge. The song was only released as a 12" single and did extremely well in the UK peaking at #6 considering the limited format. However in the US it had very little impact and deterred Byrd from recording a planned follow-up.

Also in 1983 Stevie guested on the song Someday by the Gap Band, playing harmonica. He did the same on El Debarge's ballad In A Special Way and also for Manhattan Transfer's Spice Of Life.

Adding to this, Stevie ventured to the realms of television, when he was the guest host on the Saturday Night Live comedy show. On the show he introduced a new song called Overjoyed, which was to appear 2 years later on the In Square Circle album.

Also in 1983 was the Motown 25th anniversary television special, getting a standing ovation for live performances of I Wish, You Are The Sunshine Of My Life and My Cherie Amour.

Stevi Wonder & Coretta Scott-KingBy October of that year the bill sponsoring the official holiday for MLK was voted on in the senate and passed in favour of the holiday. Stevie released the following statement, Somewhere Dr. King is smiling, not because his birthday is a holiday, but because he too is convinced that we are moving in the right direction. I know that Dr. King appreciates that this day is a day for all Americans to celebrate love, peace and unity. It is not a cure-all, but it is a healing aid.

The holiday was not to come into effect until January 1986. Stevie was deeply satisfied in winning this battle. He said, you can assassinate the man but you cannot kill the values.