Stevie Wonder, Hotter Than July Tribute
Derrick Dunn

Derrick Dunn

Concert Review: Stevie Wonder, Hotter Than July Tribute

The year was 1980, and Stevie Wonder was still enjoying the success of what many still consider his magnum opus Songs in the Key of Life. During my early days as a Podcaster, I interviewed many artists, including Eric Roberson, Stokely, and Madi Ridge. They all mentioned that Songs in the Key of Life is one record that aspiring singers and musicians should study.

Thanks to my good friend, the late Clarence Wright, I had a chance to hear Mr. Wonder perform the album in full back in 2015. Stevie followed Songs in the Key of Life with 1979’s Journey through the Secret Life of Plants, which was ill-received. However, at the turn of the 20th century, Wonder bounced back with his first platinum-selling album, Hotter Than July. Naturally, I had to attend when I discovered that Arlington Virginia Signature Theater was paying homage to Wonder’s nineteenth studio album that features the hits “Master Blaster (Jammin),” “Lately,” and “Happy Birthday.”

The Signature Theatre has always been a staple for its cabaret shows, and selecting Mr. Wonder for the first cabaret in two years was a superb choice. Matthew Gardiner directs the show, while Signature mainstay, Director of Signature Cabarets, and music director Mark G. Meadows conceived the show.

One of the things I instantly picked up on the show was the joyful feeling of Stevie Wonder’s catalog. Rochelle Rice and Solomon Parker were the primary vocalists of the night, with each having a moment to shine, particularly on two of my favorite Stevie ballads, “Lately” and “Rocket Love.” Rice took the audience to church with “Lately” while Parker turned “Rocket Love” into a lovely, tasteful, neo-soul-inspired slow jam. Music director Mark Meadows spoke throughout the night about Wonder’s legacy and just what his music meant to him. 

When Meadows performed “Isn’t She Lovely,” he flipped the lyrics to speak about being a father to his newborn son and shared that two guys in the band were going through the same thing. The night closed with a lively “Happy Birthday” performance before a Go-Go flavored cover of “Higher Ground.” 

 

Final Grade: A

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