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Grammy winner Corinne Bailey Rae excited to celebrate music of friend Stevie Wonder at True North

Corinne Bailey Rae
Grammy and MOBO-award winning Corinne Bailey Rae leads a glittering line-up for Aberdeen's True North festival.

Grammy award-winning singer Corinne Bailey Rae is relishing the opportunity to celebrate the music of friend and mentor Stevie Wonder in Aberdeen.

Chart-topping star Corinne will close the True North festival at The Music Hall on Sunday with a specially curated concert rejoicing in the soul, pop, gospel and jazz legend’s phenomenal musical legacy.

Corinne will be joined by special guests Jalen N’Gonda, Paix, Angus Munro and Little Acres.

The 42-year-old became close friends with Stevie Wonder more than a decade ago and has played on stage many times with the Motown great.

One memorable show was performing together at the White House in 2010, to honour Sir Paul McCartney.

Corinne admits the first encounter with her musical idol was nerve-wracking but she quickly realised Stevie Wonder’s beautiful music is a reflection of his character.

Corinne Bailey Rae
Corinne Bailey Rae at the 74th British Academy Film Awards, Royal Albert Hall, London, April 2021.

She said: “People say don’t meet your heroes but that’s not the case if one of your heroes’ music is an extension of themselves as a person.

“Stevie presents his real heart and the issues he cares about in his music and it has been amazing to learn from him.

“I have seen his kind heart, sense of humour and skill.

“However, our first conversation, which was by telephone, was daunting.

“Sometimes when I did phone interviews people would ask if I would sing and I would say no because I was too shy.

“That conversation with Stevie was for his radio show in LA so when he asked if I would sing I said ‘of course’ and sang Like A Star down the phone.

“When I first met him in person it was a fantastical experience. He is very tall and has a huge presence.

“As Stevie is blind his communication is physical so you are not just looking at each other.

“As you are talking he will put his arm around you or hold your hand so you have this real physical connection straight away.

“It is the same on stage as Stevie is not going to key you in by looking at you to say now is your time.

“It will be physical. He will have his hand on your shoulder so it feels very physical the way he communicates.”

Corinne Bailey Rae at the South Facing Festival, Crystal Palace Bowl, London last month.

Rise Up – Political voice of Stevie Wonder

The True North festival runs from Thursday September 23 to Sunday September 26 and includes artists such as Peaness (Lemon Tree, Thursday 23), Ayanna Witter- Johnson (Lemon Tree, Friday 24) and John Grant (Music Hall, Saturday 25).

The theme of True North is ‘Rise Up’ to mark the return of live music after 18 months of lockdown by celebrating freedom of expression, diversity, community and equality.

Corinne said: “Rise Up is really important as regards Stevie Wonder’s music.

“People think of Stevie as peace, love and kindness.

“However Stevie is also very political and has always been critical of oppressive governments and the way governments treat people with disabilities.

Corinne Bailey Rae performing at the 74th British Academy Film Awards, Ceremony in April 2021.

“He is also mindful of the race situation in America and the subject of respect and empowerment for women.

“There is a good balance to be made in politics that is non partisan and not about picking a fight with one particular party or another.

“Instead. it is about trying to work with the party in power to encourage them to see the need for extra care and help for people that are struggling whether that is financially, with mental health or disability. Stevie is very strong on that.”

Sharing a stage with the Motown legend

Following Corrine’s initial meet with Stevie Wonder a strong friendship grew and the Leeds born singer supported the soul legend on his European tour in 2010.

She has since played numerous shows with her hero and was the was main support at his huge concert at Hyde Park in summer 2019.

Corinne said: “I have been really lucky to play with Stevie a good few times now.

“Every time I have seen Stevie he has invited me on stage but there is often also another young musician waiting in the wings that he will invite on.

“He is very supportive and wants to share other peoples’ talent and push them forward.”

John Grant ahead of Aberdeen show at True North festival. Photo by Hordur Sveinsson.

Aberdeen a ‘favourite place to be’

Now in its seventh year True North traditionally finishes on a Sunday night with a celebration concert of a musical legend. Neil Young, Kate Bush and David Bowie are amongst the influential artists featured in previous years.

Corinne said: “I’m in Aberdeen for a couple of days so will hopefully be able to catch a few shows. I’m looking forward to being part of the festival and being around Aberdeen.

“I have lots of friends up in Aberdeen and it is one of my favourite places to be.”

True North the ‘icing on the cake’

Other highlights of True North are Aberdeen grime rapper Ransom FA (Lemon Tree, Saturday) who has released influential tracks and also appeared on the hit television show The Rap Game.

Ransom FA will be joined on the night by Bemz, Sean Focus and DJ HomeAlone.

Aberdeen rapper Ransom FA will perform at True North

Another must-see show is Rise Up Aberdeen – An Evening of Spoken Word with four commissioned artists Jo Gilbert, Mae Diansangu, Noon Salah Eldin and Molly McLachlan (Lemon Tree, Sunday).

After 18 months of music venues being closed due to the coronavirus pandemic lockdown restrictions Ben Torrie, Director of Programming and Creative Projects at Aberdeen Performing Arts, believes True North is the ideal way to mark the return of live shows.

Ben said: “True North is a big part of the Aberdeen Performing Arts programme and it seems like the perfect way to get back up and running again.

“The lockdown has been horrendous for everyone in different ways but performing arts has been really hard hit.

“There were times over the past 18 months when we were not necessarily sure we would ever come back from it.

“We stuck in there and have managed to keep our organisation alive and our team intact.

“We are delighted to be back and True North is the icing on the cake.”