Stevie Wonder’s House Full of Toys Benefit Concert
Photos by Steve Rood
Stevie Wonder’s annual House Full of Toys Benefit Concert returned to Los Angeles, gracing downtown’s Microsoft Theater with the 23rd installment of the beloved event. Typically a guest-laden evening, this year’s extravaganza was essentially instead a full-fledged Wonder concert, captivating the near-capacity crowd with a set of the legendary musician’s classics, plus a few holiday surprises. After a brief welcome and introduction by Wonder, led onstage by bandleader Rickey Minor, the Grammy-winning Ledisi opened the three-hour show with a two-song appearance, delighting with a shimmering “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and her hit, “Anything for You.”
From then on, it was all Stevie, as the iconic singer and instrumentalist kicked off the festivities joined by daughters Zaiah and Nia, offering the seasonal soul nugget, “What Christmas Means to Me.” Backed by over a dozen ace players from Minor’s ensemble, Wonder powered through one luminous favorite after another, leading with “As if You Read My Mind” and “Master Blaster (Jammin’),” before getting extremely funky for the City of Angels faithful on “Higher Ground.” The Latin-tinged “Don’t You Worry ‘bout A Thing” foreshadowed a night of bountiful audience participation, as the boisterous L.A. throng split into a “Fellas and Ladies” sing-along, then together sang most of “My Cherie Amour” as a teary-eyed Wonder accompanied on grand piano.
“Boogie on Reggae Woman” was a midpoint highlight, driving the ‘70s groove train into a deconstructed blues rendition of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” with Wonder showing off his exceptional acumen on harpejji. Then, Wonder delivered a moving “Ave Maria,” accentuating his spotless vocal with his signature harmonica. The second-half began with Wonder inviting a handful of audience members at random to join him onstage for “Someday at Christmas,” then extending an invite to R&B star Johnny Gill for a run at Gill’s “My, My, My.” A flurry of Wonder’s finest closed the joyous occasion- “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” “Sir Duke,” “I Wish,” “I Just Called to Say I Love You,”- before the penultimate “Superstition” slid into an instrumental nod to “The Christmas Song,” and a final “Another Star.”
An incredible showing of music and charity from Wonder, the event was best summed up in early remarks from its distinguished and unendingly talented host. “The blessing is that we’re here, and that you have come to give to the less fortunate. I truly thank you for that.”