Stevie Wonder honored in star-studded tribute

4. March 2015 10:15 by Julie Merar in Music   //  Tags:   //   Comments ()

Several days after the 2015 Grammy Awards, CBS and The Grammys put together a two-hour salute to one of the most accomplished musicians of all time - Stevie Wonder. The tribute featured a slew of remarkable vocalists, entertainers and musicians that sang some of Wonder's timeless hits. With a lineup including many Essence Music Festival alumni, the show was hosted by rapper and actor LL Cool J. Officially titled "Songs in the Key of Life - An All Star Salute," the event was recorded at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. 

A celebrity affair 
Contemporary pop artists and respected music legends stood side by side on stage to honor Wonder. At one point in the night, Wonder requested that everyone close their eyes during the performance to better understand what music sounds like for the blind. 

In the course of his emcee duties, Host LL Cool J asked "Who has done more to help us see the abilities of people who are blind than Stevie Wonder? So tonight, at Stevie's request, we take you into his world."

Beyonce kicked off the celebration with a rendition of Wonder's hit "Fingertips," and was then joined on stage by Ed Sheeran. The duo rocked a rendition of "Master Blaster" before being joined by Gary Clark Jr. With Sheeran and Clark both donning guitars, the trio finished out their set with "Higher Ground," setting the bar high for the remainder of the evening.

Other performers throughout the show included Pharrell, Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga and Annie Lennox. R&B artist Ne-Yo joined Wonder's daughter Aisha in a duet on the song that she inspired - "Isn't She Lovely." Recent Academy Award winner John Legend sang a moving rendition of "I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)." The night also included Jennifer Hudson singing "All is Fair in Love" and Babyface teaming up with Ariana Grande for an acoustic version of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," the first song for which Wonder ever received a Grammy nomination.  

Wonder closed the performance playing several of his all-time hits including "Superstition" and "Happy Birthday." He then ended the night with a warm speech encouraging artists to spread love through their craft. 

Wonder has won a staggering 25 Grammy Awards and is one of the most respected performers in the world. He has been performing for more than half a century and continues to tour in 2015.

Taylor Swift donates $50K to NYC Public Schools

2. March 2015 10:45 by Julie Merar in General  //  Tags:   //   Comments ()

Taylor Swift's 1989, her first foray strictly into pop music, has proven that she has unfathomable crossover appeal. The country artist turned pop icon's album, named after the year in which she was born, sold more than 4 million units in the U.S. alone in its first 12 weeks and more than 6 million copies total worldwide. 1989 kicks off with an upbeat track titled "Welcome to New York," perhaps in reference to Swift's move to the city in 2014. In honor of her new hometown, Swift has announced recurring donations to NYC Public Schools stemming from sales of the song, and began with a $50,000 donation in late February 2015. 

New York's Welcome Ambassador 
Swift originally promised to donate proceeds from the single to her new home's school system back in October 2014 on "The View." That same month, Swift was named the NYC & Company's global "Welcome Ambassador," and began her duties by making a number of promotional videos for the Big Apple. Though she initially caught some flack on social media for the size of her donation, NYC officials were quick to clarify that Swift would be making regular donations on a continuing basis. 

Devora Kaye, NYC's Department of Education press secretary told Entertainment Weekly, "We're deeply appreciative of this kind gesture to donate her proceeds of the single 'Welcome to New York' to benefit NYC public schools." 

A spokeswoman for the artist also ensured EW that "this is not a one-time donation." According to Time, Swift held an event with students from NYC public schools in fall 2014 and is often recognized for her philanthropic efforts. 

As welcome ambassador to the city that never sleeps, Swift's promotional videos have included praise for the quality of NYC's coffee and lattes and definitions of vocabulary specific to the city. Though Swift has not lived in the city long, her ongoing donations to the school system and marketing heft are a sure sign that she can make a positive impact on her new home. The artist currently resides in a penthouse apartment in Tribeca. 

For the majority of 2015, Swift is scheduled to be performing on her "1989 World Tour" with support from Vance Joy, Haim and Shawn Mendes.  The tour will take the artist across stadiums and arenas in the U.S. and Europe, before she closes out the year with a handful of shows in Australia.

System of a Down hints at first album in 10 years

28. February 2015 11:45 by Julie Merar in Music   //  Tags:   //   Comments ()


As legendary contemporary hard rockers System of a Down gear up for the "Wake Up the Souls" Tour kicking off in Los Angeles on April 6, 2015, the foursome has hinted at a new album possibly coming in the near future. The band has not released a studio record since the multi-platinum double album Mezmerize and Hypnotize, which were released six months apart in 2005. However, System of a Down has now been together for more than two decades, and the band continues to wow audiences worldwide. While rumors of a new album have been circulating for years, bassist Shavo Odadjian has recently suggested this possibility in more detail.

In speaking with BackstageAxxess, Shavo explained, ""We've been around for 20 years, so you have to sometimes go away and come back with all this new energy and all this new influence and inspiration. So that's what we did. We're always working. I don't wanna give you a time, because I don't wanna be false. But when it's ready, people will hear it."

'Wake Up the Souls' Tour 
The good news doesn't end there for System of a Down fans. The band is getting back on the road in 2015 on an international tour that will include stops in England, France, Germany, Russia and Canada. The tour will launch at The Forum in Inglewood, California and comes to a close with several dates at the Rock in Rio Festival in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. 

In general, the tour's aim is to raise awareness of the Armenian Genocide which took place 100 years ago in 1915. All four members of System of a Down are Armenian-Americans, and will be playing a free concert in the Republic Square of Yerevan, Armenia's capital city, on April 23, 2014, the date that officially marks the centennial. The concert will be broadcast live via the Internet so that people can watch the historic event across the globe. 

While the upcoming tour will likely slow down the timeline for a new album, SOAD vocalist and guitarist Serj Tankian has reportedly been working on a new score for the upcoming film "1915," which is slated to release on April 22, 2015. Though it's impossible to know what to expect once the band gets back in the studio, System of a Down seems more focused than ever before, and for fans, the patience will likely have a major payoff.

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