Signature Theatre salutes Stevie Wonder’s ‘Hotter Than July’ with summer cabaret

WTOP's Jason Fraley covers 'Hotter Than July' at Signature Theatre (Part 1)

Stevie Wonder’s 1980 album “Hotter Than July” is the perfect playlist for the summer.

Signature Theatre performs the tribute cabaret show “Hotter Than July” through July 17.

“We are paying tribute to Stevie Wonder and one of his quintessential albums,” Music Director Mark G. Meadows told WTOP. “As most of Stevie Wonder’s albums do, they tell the story of the times. Stevie Wonder is an artist who, no matter where he is in his journey, he reflects it in his music. Even in the album artwork, it’s a picture of Martin Luther King.”

Meadows and company will perform hits from the platinum-selling 1980 album.

“You hear ‘Rocket Love,’ you hear ‘All I Do,’ you hear ‘Lately,’ you hear ‘Master Blaster,’ you hear ‘Did I Hear You Say You Love Me,’ you hear ‘As If You Read My Mind,'” Meadows said. “The album order itself is perfect. We do the first five songs from the album straight through. What better way to get the order of how the artist wanted to portray his music?”

You won’t hear the entire album, but you’ll definitely hear the iconic “Happy Birthday.”

“Stevie Wonder has a lot to do with why we celebrate Martin Luther King Day,” Meadows said. “He actually wrote a song, ‘Happy Birthday,’ which to many is the Black anthem for ‘Happy Birthday.’ He wrote that song for Martin Luther King. After that, we go to see legislation passed to make MLK Day a national holiday [starting in 1983].”

You’ll also hear a few bonus songs that weren’t on the “Hotter Than July” album but are still fitting, including “Higher Ground,” “Summer Soft” and “Isn’t She Lovely.”

“Myself, our bass player and our drummer are all new dads,” Meadows said. “We all have kids under 2 years old, so we have a bit where we do the song ‘Isn’t She Lovely,’ which Stevie wrote for his daughter, Aisha. Me and the dads do a trio number dedicated to our recent sons.”

Meadows is a D.C. native determined to bring folks together.

“I was born in what used to be a women’s hospital,” Meadows said. “I moved to Dallas, Texas, when I was 5 and split time between Dallas with my dad and D.C. with my mom. … In Dallas, I was in an all-white community. In D.C., I was in an all-Black community. … It helped manifest what I am as an artist, someone who can bring together all kinds of people.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley covers 'Hotter Than July' at Signature Theatre (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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