“Music is a world within itself/With a language we all understand/With an equal opportunity/For all to sing, dance and clap their hands.”
Those, of course, are the opening lines from “Sir Duke” off of Stevie Wonder’s magnificent 1976 album “Songs in the Key of Life.” Wonder was right; music is a language we all understand, and one of Wonder’s biggest fans is going to prove it the day after Christmas.
Local singer (and when I say singer, I mean incredible powerhouse) Kenya Hall presents the 7th Annual Tribute to Stevie Wonder, and this time offers a special twist. Hall and several of her extremely talented musician friends will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the “Key of Life” album by performing every single song off of it, including the aforementioned “Sir Duke.” They’ve been rehearsing for months and are ready to bring the classic album to life.
I reached out to Hall to get a better understanding of her appreciation for Wonder, and it turns out, we were both at Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” concert in Boston two years ago. As you can imagine, I thought the concert was incredible, but it meant something even more to Hall, who said that the “Songs” album is her favorite of the Wonder catalog.
“The show completely filled my spirits. I started crying as soon as he said, ‘Hello.’ What a beautiful, gifted soul, and I was there first-hand to experience his sound of love, live. I was touched.”
Here’s “Sir Duke” from the 11/11/14 Stevie Wonder show that Hall and I attended in Boston
Hall’s favorite song from the album is “As,” and it’s no easy task for her to perform it. “I still hold back tears every time I sing it.” Hall also mentioned the album’s “Summer Soft” and “Have a Talk With God” as ones she’s never gotten to sing on stage before and is completely thrilled to finally do so. As for me, I’m all about “Knocks Me Off My Feet” and have no doubt she and her band are going to crush it.
Hall’s band hasn’t changed much since they started doing the Wonder shows seven years ago, because why mess with perfection, right? You’ll hear Dave Henault of Sly-Chi on drums, Dave Thibodeau on bass, Calvin McIlwain of Colorblind on guitar, Pete Dugas from Micromassé and The Awesome on guitar, Kristina Kentigian on backing vocals, Chas Lester of The Fogcutters on backing vocals and percussion, Angele Pitteroff on backing vocals, Lucas Desmond of Model Airplane on sax and Emma Stanley of The Fogcutters on trumpet.
Hall also hopes to bring another ingredient to the table.
“I hope this year’s show emits all of the love that we all need to hear. It’s been a tough year in a lot of different ways for so many people that I know. Sometimes when you’re picking songs to play, you really want to reflect what you and the people around you are going through,” she explained.
Here’s Hall and company including Lyle Divinsky and Zach Jones performing Wonder’s “I Wish” at a previous tribute show.
And although Hall and her band didn’t initially choose this album because of what was going on in the world, she said it became more and more apparent that what they are performing this year reflects exactly what people need.
“I guess just like all good music, it tends to speak to you when you need to hear it the most,” she said.
I’ve attended at least four of these Wonder shows, and they all have been absolutely spectacular. Don’t worry that this show is on a Monday night. Chances are you’ll still be clinging to holiday fun mode and will rally with ease for this glorious celebration of Stevie Wonder’s music.
This is one of the hottest nights of local music all year and could easily sell out, so, as Wonder sings on the album’s first track, “don’t delay … don’t delay” in getting your tickets. The last place you want to be is standing out on the sidewalk in front of Port City Music Hall freezing your tush off while everyone else is inside having the times of their lives.
I’ll leave you with a couple of re-written lines from “Sir Duke” with the hopes of nudging you into catching this show. “With a voice like Kenya’s ringing out, there’s no way the band can lose/You can feel it all over, you can feel it all over … people,” I know you can.
9 p.m. Monday, Dec. 26. Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland, $15 general admission, $25 preferred seating, 18-plus. portcitymusichall.com