The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Monday, June 11th, 2012 by

Sitting on the airplane, flying over the Atlantic ocean, it just hit me; an emotional wave of gratitude, surging forth beyond the point of my control. I’m usually a somewhat stoic person, but from time to time, I turn into a regular old girlie-girl. Today is one of those days. I just had the most amazing weekend. I’m still in awe

Of course, most of you know that I’ve been part of Stevie Wonder’s band for the past few years, you know how much I love playing his music and sharing the stage with him, you know how he’s already given me the honor of accompanying him solo (“If It’s Magic”), of playing the solo introduction on his brilliant Live DVD “Live At Last” (Chick Corea’s “Spain”) and of accompanying him and Tony Bennett on the grand piano (“For Once In My Life” at Madison Square Garden), among others. Now I can say that I performed with Stevie Wonder at the Diamond Jubilee celebration for Queen Elizabeth II

Stevie was one of many iconic musicians invited to perform for the Diamond Jubilee. Artists, from newcomers like Jessie J to legends like Sir Paul McCartney, were everywhere! When we first arrived at the venue, I couldn’t help but notice the elaborate security set up. Just to approach the dressing room area seemed to require security checks every few feet. The performers in the tent where I was stationed included Stevie Wonder, Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John, Tom Jones, Grace Jones, Jools Holland, Annie Lennox, Kylie Minogue, Lord Andrew Lloyd Weber, Rubie Turner and Robbie Williams. I shared a dressing room with the singers from Elton John’s band (Rose Stone, her daughter Lisa Stone, Tata Vega and Jean Witherspoon). I was literally surrounded by musical history. These artists had not only created and performed some of the most memorable music ever composed, but they were all so gracious, kind, easy going and genuinely happy to be at the event. I was lucky enough to have photos taken with virtually everyone, and even got hugs from several of them. Sir Elton John even kissed my cheek! br />

I had dinner in the cafeteria with members of Stevie’s band, and conversed with Abe Laboriel, Jr., Paul “Wix” Wickens, and guitarist Rusty Anderson of Paul McCartney’s band. I also had a brief musical conversation with Annie Lennox. She’s so awesome! Very down to earth and approachable

The day had been cold and overcast, and the night was proving to be even more cold. Thankfully, the rain had broken, but the weather was far too cold for me to wear my halter topped gown without a jacket. I happened to have mentioned to one of the event staff people that I needed to go shop for a jacket and he in turn mentioned it to the event wardrobe department. Within minutes, the brilliant seamstress whipped together a tshirt for me to wear hidden below the gown and a jacket to wear on top. Since I was wearing a floor length gown, I was able to roll up my super tight jeans and wear them under the gown. Cold? What cold? I was warm and toasty all night thanks to fabulous women in from wardrobe and the excellent event staff. They were pleasant and always at ease in the midst of artist mayhem

The full moon shone overhead we made our way to the stage. Once perched at my keyboard station, I noticed that there was no power to any of my gear. We had about 2 minutes to showtime, so I quickly grabbed the attention of as many stage crew as I could reach. After a frenzy of activity, bringing power from a different source to my station, the power came up. Fears of not being able to perform averted, I took a quick phone video of the crowd, and went into performance mode: play the tunes, feel the groove, show energy and joy. Easy enough given the exuberant crowd. We launched into “Sir Duke” and the crowd went crazy! “Isn’t She Lovely” (lyrics adapted to suit the Queen), an impromptu version of “Happy Birthday” with and “Superstition” followed. I went online later and discovered there was a hubbub about Stevie singing “Happy Birthday”, since the Queen’s actual birthday is in April. I can only presume that someone informed Stevie that the Queen’s birthday is celebrated in June

As the performance concluded, I walked to the backstage holding area with the rest of the band to find myself surrounded by more celebrity musicians. I went into full throttle fan mode. I was in awe and simply thrilled to be there. Sir Paul performed after Stevie, and during his final song, the entire group of performers took to the stage in a grand finale. At that time, the royal family came into the holding area. I stood no more than 5 feet away from Her Majesty the Queen and her family as they passed through. Once they took to the stage, we employees were asked to leave the backstage holding tent. We were allowed to remain backstage outdoors and watch the giant TV monitors and the spectacular fireworks show. The display was beautiful, but extremely loud!

After the event concluded, we were all asked to stand 6 feet back, allowing passageway for the royal family to their awaiting carriages. Her Majesty passed by, followed by Prince Charles and Camilla and other family members. Once their procession disappeared into the palace, we were finally allowed to go back to our dressing rooms and pack up our personal belongings. I didn’t bother changing out of my gown back into my street clothes, but had put on my sneakers. The guys in the band were fully decked in jeans and tee shirts again. Suddenly, our primary contact, a wonderful man named Junior – who took exquisite care of us all, presented us all with invitations, our names each printed, to the after party in Buckingham Palace!! The guys swiftly changed back into their fancy suits, and I put my feet back into my stillettos. I was going to the Palace!! No sneakers on my feet!

As I stepped onto the Palace courtyard, I couldn’t stop grinning. I took a few photos and followed our group into the Palace. Once inside the Palace, we weren’t allowed to take photos, but I can report that the downstairs salons and artworks are absolutely beautiful, and the antique restroom is quite unique. Inside the restroom was a row of toilet stalls. The toilets look like wooden boxes with holes in them. There’s no raised seat as in a modern restroom, and the flush is a lever on the left side of the toilet box that you pull upwards to induce water flow. I couldn’t find any photos online

I returned upstairs to the main salon where everyone was vying to meet Stevie Wonder. I had the chance to shake hands and chat with Prince William (who made me feel completely at ease, carries a conversation very well, is clearly a music fan – loves Stevie), received a high-5 from Sir Paul McCartney (like…wow…) and got a couple of hugs and had a great conversation with fellow Oakland native Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson (seriously…wow). Talk about cool people! We talked about our mutual alma mater, Skyline High School, Stevie’s music, They made my night when they told me (after taking a series of photos with me and the other band members) “good night, Victoria”. Wow. For real. Wow

I left the Palace feeling like a Princess. I felt a sense of awe, wonder and, as is often the case when I’m performing with Stevie, absolute humility. I’m a piano player from Oakland. How did I end up going to a private party, filled with some of the world’s most famous celebrities, dignitaries and musicians? All I can say is “thank you Stevie Wonder” for the best job on the planet!

This entry was posted on Monday, June 11th, 2012 at 5:58 pm and is filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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