Tag Archives: Jennifer Hudson

Stevie Is Wonderful: Inner Visions Of Songs In The Key Of Life-An All-Star Grammy Tribute To Stevie Wonder

Janelle,Jill And India Pay Tribute to Stevie

On Presidents Day evening,the Grammy Awards association aired a television special on CBS featuring contemporary artists,many of them award winners themselves,in order to pay tribute to Mister Stevie Wonder. Not only was this a tribute to an artist I completely admire creatively. But someone who won awards and earned his success and fortune through the true innovation of sound. It was an event filled with many surprises. And today I would like to talk about what I saw,sung,laughed and danced to watching that night right along with so much of America!

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The evening began with Beyonce performing a medley of Stevie’s first hit “Fingertips” and “Master Blaster” joined by guitar player Ed Sheeran. The highlight of this intro was from the guitarist Gary Clark Jr,who played a rocking blues electric guitar solo on a rendition of “Higher Ground”.

LL Cool J

LL Cool J was of course MC’ing the entire affair as he has the previous two Grammy Award ceremonies. He began by talking about Stevie Wonder’s effect on his life-as many of the artist this night did. Wonder was visibly moved to tears by this level of affection for his art. Towards the end of the special,LL asked the audience all over the world to close our eyes for a moment to contemplate the level of vision Wonder projects into his music. A very meaningful gesture.

Gaga doing I Wish

Lady Gaga’s performance of “I Wish” moved me perhaps the most on this special. Playing the Fender Rhodes electric piano with the help of keyboard maestro (and former Wonderlove member) Greg Phillinganes, Gaga was moved to move rhythmically to the music as Phillinganes took over the keyboard soloing. Not only was this a pronounced celebration of the instrumental ability of an artist mainly acknowledged as a performer. But was a pretext to a beautiful shout out and citation to the often very unsung talent of Greg Phillinganes himself-especially as a participant in Stevie’s ascent into iconic status in music.

Annie Lennox Stevie Wonder Songs In The Key Of Life - An All-Star GRAMMY Salute

Annie Lennox took on “My Cherie Amour”,vocally taking on a full bodied understanding of the emotional juxtaposition between passion,flirtatiousness and awkwardness expressed in this song. Jill Scott,Janelle Monae and India Arie-pictured at the top of this blog paying tribute to their favorite Stevie Wonder albums,gave a truly powerful group duet of the song “As”. Not only did they successfully pay tribute as presenter Mary Wilson indicated of the classic girl group dynamic? But each of them took a try at imitating Stevie’s famous growled vocal bridge of the song.

ryan_tedder_pharrell_stevie_wonder_tribute_h_2015

Pharrell Williams and Ryan Tedder did a spirited duet version of “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing”-pointing out that often a song intended as a singular expression by an individual can be reflected by two as well.

Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson bought her powerful gospel fueled pipes to a passionate take on the renowned ballad “All In Love Is Fair”. She maintained the flavor of the song as a secularized romantic hymn until the very last note was sung. Stevie’s daughter Aisha joins Ne-Yo in a duet of “Isn’t She Lovely”-essentially paying it forward to her fathers musical tribute to her birth.

andre-bocelli

Andrea Bocelli shares physical blindness in common with Stevie Wonder and for this particular occasion? He gives his own vocally expression rendition of “I Just Called To Say I Love You”. Ed Sheeran did an acapella/guitar rendition of “I Was Made To Love Her” showcasing Wonder’s talents as a multi instrumentalist.

ariana-grande-and-babyface-stevie-wonder-tribute

Relative newcomer Ariana Grande performed “Signed Sealed and Delivered” in an acoustic bluesy soul flavored rendition with Babyface performing the vocal duet and playing acoustic guitar in accompaniment. Another example of a song intended from one person’s point of view-this time taken from a male/female dynamic.


Overall this was a very impressive tribute. All of the participants did something totally unexpected with Wonder’s songs. And most importantly? There was a great deal of understanding of the man’s musical visions from them as well. Paul McCartney made a brief guest appearance sharing personal reminiscences of knowing “Little Stevie” as a teenager. And perhaps Tony Bennett before his performance of “For Once In My Life” said one key artistic point-that Stevie Wonder’s vocal and compositional spontaneity made him one of the best jazz artist Tony’d ever heard.

Perhaps the best observations came from Stevie Wonder himself. Having been cited for his often unsung importance as the public consciousness of the crusade to make Martin Luther King Jrs birthday a national holiday in 1980? Stevie played a medley of his fusion instrumental “Contusion” and “Sir Duke”. He than spoke to the audience about how the only way humanity could deal with it’s present cultural clashes would be to come together with our differences,not use them as a wedge. The fact Stevie’s views on humanitarianism have remained consistent throughout the years says the most important thing about the interconnection between this man and his musical offerings.

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Filed under Andrea Bocelli, Annie Lennox, Ariana Grande, Babyface, Beyonce', Ed Sheeran, India.Arie, Janelle Monae, Jennifer Hudson, Jill Scott, Lady Gaga, LL Cool J, Paul McCartney, Pharrell Willaims, Ryan Tedder, Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett

The Anatomy of THE Groove 7/11/14 Rique’s Pick : “It’s Your World” by Jennifer Hudson ft R Kelly

One of the interesting things about being an admirerer of Funk, Soul and Disco in the 21st Century is the layers and layers of musical styles to uncover, from the past five decades. A musical style or effect that began in the ’70s might resonate with a younger listener as more of a musical pillar in a decade like the 1990s, when they were in their music consuming youth. In the case of Jennifer Hudson’s fantastic new R Kelly produced single, “It’s Your World”, J Hud and Kells manage to craft a performance of a track that conjures up both the original disco-funk era of the late 1970s and the Disco homages and creative reengagement of 1990s house music. It’s often been said House Music itself was a reaction to the end of Disco in the early ’80s, with Black underground clubs in Chicago (Chi Town)  and Detroit continuing to play R&B disco rarities, eventually leading to the creation of their own low budget, electronic disco dance records. The Disco inflected House and Garage genres ended up finding their way into huge mainstream records, such as Lisa Stansfield’s Barry White love letter, “All Around the World”, and Whitney Houston’s smash interpretation of Chaka Khan’s 1977  classic “I’m Every Woman.”  Jennifer Hudson manages to combine both eras in a combustible song that stands tall on its own as a true dance floor devotional.

“It’s Your World” begins with a “Boom. Tap…ta-be-di-be Boom. Tap” drum roll, sampled straight off one of this writers favorite records, Roy Ayers Ubiquity’s 1977 disco in the jungle masterpiece “Running Away.” “Running Away” is not the first song most people think of when it comes to disco, but it was a huge hit among hard core dancers, particularly in cities that would keep the flag of disco waving in the ’80s and ’90s, like New York, Paris, London, and Chicago. The drum roll sets the scene for a furiously funky disco/House music track.

The track is a mix of the actual disco thing and ’90s House. The drumming is the basic disco drum beat, amped up and on steroids, delivered from a drum machine, with sizzling open hi hats, a true ’90s house sound. A single note muted guitar riff helps protect the rhythm, in the manner of a rhythm guitar part such as the one found on Evelyn Champagne King’s “Shame.” The bass line is prominent in the mix  but not dominant, though it does dominate musically, laying down a nimble, syncopated part with a somewhat disembodied sound. The bass line clearly sets the edges of the music. Very prominent Fender Rhodes chords also feature here, which might have been buried under the horns and strings of a ’70s disco record, but have much more room to breathe in the ’90s house approach. Percussion sizzles, and bits of synth strings and brass are inserted on the choruses.

J Hud delivers a powerful, soulfully excellent vocal performance in the tradition of Soul Disco diva’s like Loleatta Halloway and Martha Wash. Her part is full of melisma, and sung with a bluesy, chesty tone. The lyrics speak of an old school topic, straight up 100% devotion, “I’ll be your servant/your slave/your everything/you ever wanted.” Hudson’s ennunciation is sharp and soulful at the same time (‘and every THANG in it”, “if you ask it, it SHALL be given.”) Hudson belts out at the top of her vocal range, beautifully soulful notes. The lyrics and vocals speak to the excess of a blissful relationship.

R Kelly’s track evolves, adding and subtracting layers until it reaches a breakdown voiced by the man himself. The breakdown takes out the drums, leaving behind percussion shakers to carry the rhythm. The Rhodes is more prominent with the extra space, revealing it’s bell toned intracacies. Kelly sings a super soulful response, promising the exact same things J Hud promised her man. He hits some stunningly powerul low notes when he sings the line, “Everything your heart desires baby.” The structure of the song itself is unique and reminiscent of the disco era, as J Hud sings along for two and a half minutes or so before Kelly gets the spotlight. After Kelly’s breakdown, he trades lines with Hudson. Over the climax of the track, the two soul singers belt out some serious, bone chilling romantic screams. R Kelly understands as a producer that, coming from the gospel tradition, an uptempo dance song is just as much a format for gymnastic vocals as a slow burn ballad. The way Hudson works the melismatic chorus of “Its Your World” reminds me of Stevie Wonders vocal stylings at the high point of the 1976 classic “I Wish”, and Hudson promises similar religous devotion to her lover as Wonder did on that song.

“It’s Your World” is a wonderful dance record, beautifully sung and constructed. The track transcends it’s ’70s and ’90s influences to become something of its own, building on Kelly’s solid work in classic sounds, from his work with Charlie Wilson and the Isley Brothers, to his “steppers music” like “Happy People”, to his recent old school albums, 2010’s “Love Letter”, and 2012’s “Write Me Back.” Hudson builds on her performances in “Dreamgirls”, and her hot boogie funk, Evelyn Champagne King  influenced single “I Can’t Describe” from last year. The result is a record that stands tall besides it’s influences as a great example of how a dance song can serve as a love devotional.  I hope Hudson has much success with it as well as the upcoming album its taken from.

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Filed under 1970's, 1990s, Acid House, Disco, Funk, Music Reviewing