If y’all don’t mind, I’d like to take this time and space to thank Mr. Stevland Morris—the world-famous entertainer known as Stevie Wonder—for so, so much. Of course for making a bunch of hugely inspirational, influential, unparalleled music, for being a Black national hero, for helping make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a thing, all that—but there’s something, a couple things, really a lot more close to home for which I have always been incredibly, personally grateful.

See, Stevie literally helped my mother beat cancer, the first time—or at least he tried. I’m serious. When my mom first got diagnosed with ovarian cancer, her old friend Stevie procured for her an elixir—“from Africa,” I was told, and presumably not FDA-approved—some awful-tasting herbal stuff in a heavy brown glass bottle, which sat in the rack of our fridge door for months; said elixir was supposed to be a cure for cancer. Ridiculous, right? Maybe my mother thought so, too—at some point she told me that it was too nasty to drink. I was horrified that Stevie fucking Wonder got her a wonder cure and she refused to take it. Except—I think she did, because somebody was drinking that nasty shit, and it wasn’t me. And that cancer, which had at some point almost killed her—or for some seconds, did, according to her—that cancer later went into remission. Does it mean it was due to this African wonder potion? Not necessarily, of course, but the fact is that he looked out—and between you and me, I heard he did that for a few people. You think Usher or John Legend ever tried to do anything like that for their peoples?

So even though I couldn’t get his PR people to grant me an interview—I just wanted to thank him for being such a good friend to my mother, to my family. My older brother didn’t exactly have an easy life—but I do know that when he got hit by a car, Stevie Wonder showed up to the hospital he was in, with toys for him and the entire children’s wing. I wasn’t around yet, but this was just the stuff of family folklore.

Linda Lopez, my mother, knew Stevie because she was around the music industry in the 1970s, working at a place called Crystal Sound on Santa Monica and Vine. Songs in the Key of Life was mastered there by Crystal founder Andrew Berliner; a man named John Fishbach, who I remember she dated at some point, engineered and did some percussion and background vocals. Crystal was where I got to meet a bunch of people as a kid. Stevie’s personal assistant at one point was one of Linda’s best friends, Josette, my godmother.

So in the mid-’80s, I knew about Stevie—who didn’t—but I’d never met the guy. One night, my mom asked if I wanted to have dinner at Sizzler, which in my eyes was a rare treat on par with going into Toys “R” Us… except with all-you-could-eat shrimp instead of G.I. Joes, and a salad bar included. The Sizzler we drove to wasn’t our usual location by the Crenshaw mall—it seemed that Moms had an errand to run in that part of town—and after dinner she nonchalantly asked me if I wanted to meet Stevie. I said yes, probably spraying cheese toast crumbs everywhere.

So we drove to his studio, where I indeed met the man himself—yup, same guy from TV, same guy I’d watched Eddie Murphy imitate so well. Shades, braids, his broad, smiling face oscillating slightly, he welcomed me into his studio, then disappeared with Moms and an engineer into a control room. I was left with Stevie’s young niece, who gave me the grand tour of the kitchen, where I burned myself trying to make instant hot cocoa—she laughed at my clumsiness, but I’d never seen a water cooler with a hot water spout. At some point she went to try to peep through the keyhole into where the adults were; she put her face close to the door, and I, feeling like she’d set me up with the whole cocoa thing, promptly kicked her in the butt and ran away. I’m not proud. Needless to say, she wasn’t really fucking with me after that. I found myself aimlessly wandering around the studio’s offices unsupervised. Seeing a trash can with what looked like chewing tobacco spit in it, I kicked it over—man, I don’t know why I was being such a little shit this day. I shit you not, though, Stevie then picked that exact moment to walk by the open door of the office; I looked at him, and he seemed to look right at me, or through me. Tersely, he spoke to me words I’ll never, in all my life, forget—“Get away from that”—and kept on walking.

Now, did you know there’s a conspiracy theory that Stevie Wonder can actually see? You can YouTube it, there’s long compilations of clips of him catching falling microphones, of him sitting courtside at basketball games following the action, and so forth. For a long time, I wondered (har-har) the same thing because of that trash can—but I’ve come to the conclusion that all of that is pure unmitigated bullshit. If you ever saw Stevie Wonder give a high five, do a crossword puzzle, or land a helicopter, it’s not because the man secretly has sight—it’s because he’s magic. Stevie Wonder is fucking magic, and this is irrefutable.

For evidence, just check out, if you never have, his untouchable ’70s run of albums that started with his renegotiating his Motown contract and taking full creative control—beginning with 1972’s Music of My Mind. And 1976’s Songs in the Key of Life, the double album that Stevie is performing in full on this, his current godsend tour, is the crown jewel of this run, and my favorite Stevie album. (My mother’s was Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, and she pointed out to me at least one in-joke in the liner notes, which I’ll keep to myself for now.) From the jump, Stevie is literally afraid that his words could cause “the world’s disaster”—that the idea of love itself was in danger or short supply, that it needed some love its damn self. I know Stevie became shorthand for saccharine, that there’s probably a gang of folks who regard his work as endlessly corny—fine. For me, and a great deal of Black America, Stevie is our Beatles.

His work, especially this album, was hard for me to listen to for years after my mother’s passing in 1999, when that cancer came back. I can’t hear the furious second part of “Ordinary Pain” without hearing her singing along (“You’re just a masochistic fool… ”); I can’t listen to the harmonica on “Easy Goin’ Evening (My Mama’s Call)” without having to concentrate on not tearing up… but as Stevie taught me, there’s joy inside my tears. If you listen in, you can, in fact, feel it all over—and for that, I have you to thank, forever and ever. recommended