When Stevie Wonder announced John Lennon’s death live on stage
The tragic death of John Lennon didn’t just rock those people closest to him, nor just fans his fans, but the entire world. The news spread like wildfire as the realisation that one of the most popular figures of musical history had been murdered in front of his own him began to set in. It was a devastating blow, not only to the aforementioned masses but, perhaps more noticeably than most, the music industry. Not only had they lost one of their brightest stars but Lennon’s death acted as a stark reminder of the dangers they faced.
In a world without social media or 24 hours news, it took a while for the devastating news to reach everyone in the music industry. While some were informed quite quickly, others learned of Lennon’s death just like everyone else, through a news bulletin. It has since become one of the landmark moments of the age, a searing incident which has been forever ingrained on the fabric of society and individual’s minds. Meaning most people will be able to tell you where they were when John Lennon was shot.
For many people, who were casually going about their lives and enjoying themselves, that news arrived at inopportune moments. For thousands in attendance at Stevie Wonder’s show on December 8th, 1980, the news was delivered by the mercurial musician himself as Stevie Wonder fought back tears to deliver the simply devastating news. “I want you all to understand that I’m not a person who likes to be the bearer of of any bad news,” Wonder began with the audience hush feeling almost palpable.
It’s the kind of hush that can often befall school playground’s and sports arena, when the expectation of shock is already beginning to induce the shock itself. Wonder seems not only unable to really provide the news in any forthright way but also visibly shocked and shaken by the tragedy. “Someone has recently been shot,” he continued, speaking to his audience, “He was shot, tonight. Three times.”
To make matters worse, Wonder’s voice then cracked as revealed the name of the victim in question: “I’m talking about Mr John Lennon.” An exclamative exhale lands with an oppressive force and can be almost felt, even 40 years later, when watching the footage. While Wonder and Lennon didn’t share much common ground musically or personally, the violation of his life clearly resonated with the ‘Superstition’ singer.
Speaking to the Oakland Coliseum he continued to share his feelings: “I’m very sorry to have to tell you that, but, when I found it out… it’s still very hard for me to do this show, even now. But I know that he would want me to continue to express those same feelings, as he has in his life.” He dedicated a song to Lennon that night, a song which was for “people like him” who “lived and died for the principle of unity for all people.”
Later, in an interview some time after, Wonder claimed that he wasn’t shocked that Lennon had been killed. “Not saying that I expected for it to happen to him,” he clarified for his interviewer. “But I expected that, in time, that kind of thing would begin to happen, unfortunately, to artists. To those that express how they feel in that form. I’m so very sorry,” he continued. “I’m so very broken hearted that it happened.”
You can watch the stunning and saddening moment Stevie Wonder announced the death of John Lennon below.