Stevie Wonder’s House Full of Toys 2009

Thursday, December 17th, 2009 by

This past weekend Stevie Wonder hosted his annual House Full of Toys Concert in Los Angeles, at the Nokia. Every year, Stevie invites other high profile artists to participate in this worthy charitable event, and everyone comes together to create a great show for the audience all in the name of raising funds to provide holiday gifts for low-income children. This year was no different.

I flew to Los Angeles Friday morning, and after doing some practicing in my hotel room, was driven to the rehearsal space in Burbank. The band, including guest guitarist, Paul Jackson, Jr., spent virtually the entire day learning arrangements for a series of artists. Rickey Minor was our designated music director, and kept things moving along, fun and energetic even as the hours extended past the initial end time…and then further! Thankfully, I was able to get a good night’s rest Friday night, especially since, having done this event twice before, I knew perfectly well how intense Saturday would be.

On Saturday, the band arrived at the venue at 2:30pm, and shortly thereafter, we were in rehearsal. Many of the guest artists were not able to attend rehearsal, but the band certainly appreciated those who could! First up, the Jonas Brothers.

Honestly, I have to confess that I had never heard any of their music, and only was aware of them as a “Tween” boy band with a massive fan base. After learning three of their songs (S.O.S., Lovebug and Burnin’ Up – a medley with Superstition), and having met them, I’m now a fan! All three of the brothers were adorable (ok, maybe not the word young men of their age group want to hear…but they were!), personable, and courteous, and worked closely with the band. No egos at all! It’s wonderful to see such a successful musical act with musicians who aren’t arrogant and off putting! After the rehearsal, which went perfectly, the brothers, Nick, Joe and Kevin, shook each of our hands, introduced themselves (by name, thankfully…of course I didn’t know their names…oops!), and thanked us. And, further, during their set, they gave a shout out to the band.

Next to rehearse with us was India Arie. I’ve been a fan of India Arie for many years, and have both met her and performed with her several times, but I am always impressed by her musicianship and lovely demeanor. We went over a few songs, and all headed off to get dressed for the show.

The show was fun! Each artist performed 2-3 songs, most of which we were prepared to do, though in true Wonder style, there were plenty of surprises! The other artists included the winner of Stevie’s Young Singer competition, sponsored by his radio station, KJLH, Trijean, the incredible a capella group, Mosaic, Michel’le, 3T (singing to a track), Robin Thicke, Ledisi (hometown girl and my friend), Kimberly Brewer (my angel-voiced friend and occasional band-mate) and the incomparable Mary Mary. Michel’le opened the guest artist segment with her 1989 hit “No More Lies” and a new song that isn’t yet released. Robin performed “Magic” and his 2006 hit “Lost Without You”, including a rubato intro that I played with him. That was fun because I love that song! Kimberly sang her Christmas hit with Stevie “I Love You More”, and sounded as lovely as ever. Kimberly was a tremendous source of support for me when I was hired to tour with Stevie, and has one of the most beautiful voices around. Ledisi sang an unbelievable version of “Silent Night”. Her voice always has been, and continues to be utterly, and ridiculously amazing. She is undoubtedly one of my favorite singers, and a vocal inspiration for me. As are Erica and Trecina Campbell, better known as Mary Mary. I’ve been a Mary Mary fan since their debut CD, Thankful, and I was thrilled to be performing with them. They sang a Christmas song with their regular pianist, who was incredible, and then performed their latest hit “God In Me” with the band, me playing rhodes. Wow.

During India Arie’s set, she took the band on a musical journey. Just as with Stevie, India is moved by spirit and her performance reflected the kind of spontaneity and passion that I’ve grown to love performing with Stevie. We were set to perform “The Truth” and “Brown Skin” (I played rhodes on both), but we played much more than those two songs, including Stevie and India singing a very cool, up-tempo R&B version of “The Christmas Song“. What fun!

Of course, the audience made the loudest noise, most squeals and responded most enthusiastically for the Jonas Brothers. As soon as Stevie introduced them, the audience went wild. The brothers walked on stage, gave a great, high-energy performance, and we all had fun. I was positioned directly behind the guys, so I’m sure that I’m in hundreds of Jonas Brothers photos across cyber-space.

Throughout the evening, Stevie sang various holiday songs, including “Ave Maria” with me playing a harp sound. I was so busy reading the score (yes, I read it…I know, I know… I should have that memorized, but I didn’t want to take a chance on making an error), that I didn’t even notice the camera fixed on my hands. People in the audience told me that the image on screen toggled between Stevie and my hands, and that my hands looked beautiful as they moved across the keys. Very cool…

After the show, I took photos with journalist Tavis Smiley and India Arie. I had hoped to meet Mary Mary, but it’ll have to be another time.

Me, Tavis Smiley, Lanesha Baca

Me, India, Lanesha

Happy holidays to everyone involved with the production and hope to see you next year! Be sure not to miss the next show. It’s always great entertainment for an even greater cause.
This entry was posted on Thursday, December 17th, 2009 at 12:40 am and is filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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