Stevie Wonder: 'I'm going to take a break'; will have kidney transplant this September

Susan Whitall
Special to The Detroit News

With unconfirmed rumors and anonymous reports about his health trickling out, Stevie Wonder took things into his own hands Saturday in London as he was finishing his set at the British Summer Time festival in Hyde Park.

With his customary directness, the 69-year-old Saginaw native said: “I’m going to take a break. I’m going to have a kidney transplant in September. It’s all good. I’ve got a donor,” according to the U.K. Mirror. “You ain’t got to hear no rumors about nothing, I’m telling you.”

Stevie Wonder, performing at the funeral service for Aretha Franklin in August, announced his plan Tuesday to help firefighters and first responders who assisted with the fires at the 22nd annual House Full of Toys Benefit Concert on Dec. 9.

It was perfect timing for Wonder to tell fans he didn’t want them to listen to rumors, right after singing “Superstition,” with its lyrics about believing in things you don’t understand.

It’s not the first time he’s spoken directly to his fans about a personal issue. Even a few years after the death in 2006 of his mother Lula Hardaway, Wonder would still dissolve into tears on stage while talking about how much she wanted him to go back on the road and do live concerts again.

Wonder moved to Detroit with his mother and five siblings when he was a toddler, to a house on Greenlawn. He attended Fitzgerald Elementary School in Detroit, and later, the Michigan School for the Blind in Lansing.

Wonder had his first hit on Motown’s Tamla label in 1963, with “Fingertips Part 2” when he was 13 (Motown fudged his age and said he was 12). “Fingertips Part 2,” recorded at Chicago’s Regal Theatre with the Funk Brothers backing him up, managed to top three of Billboard’s charts -- the Hot 100, R&B Singles and Album charts -- all at the same time.

He is undoubtedly Motown’s most successful artist: in 1974 he started an unprecedented Grammy run, winning five Grammys in one year for the album Innervisions, and going on to add 20 more to his pile.

In recent years, Wonder has been working on his health and lost a considerable amount of weight.  Last year, he was one of the last people to visit Aretha Franklin, spending time with her at her Detroit apartment on Aug. 14. Franklin died two days later, of pancreatic cancer.

Unlike his friend, who refused to talk about her illness in 2010, or when she had a relapse in recent years, Wonder took a different path, his sunny spirituality coming through as he shared all with his fans.