The Grammy-sponsored Stevie Wonder tribute Songs in the Key of Life – An All-Star Salute aired Monday night on CBS, nearly a week after the star-studded concert took place following Music’s Biggest Night. In Rolling Stone‘s review of the tribute concert, where artists handpicked their favorite tracks from the Wonder catalog to perform, we noted that Beyoncé “set the bar high” with her performance.
In a show-opening performance recalling her gospel-tinged delivery of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” to close out the Grammy Awards, Beyoncé opened the medley with a soulful call-and-response rendition of “Fingertips,” an early hit dating back to when the then-preteen singer was referring to himself as “Little” Stevie Wonder. After getting the crowd revved up, Beyoncé excused her backup dancers and welcomed Ed Sheeran to the stage as she jumped nearly two decades forward into the Wonder catalog with 1980’s “Master Blaster (Jammin’).”
The British crooner and Beyoncé split the opening verses of the brassy Bob Marley tribute track before busting out an incredible vocal outro that segued into her final song of the medley and another surprise guest: “Higher Ground” with Austin guitar wizard Gary Clark, Jr. Throughout her medley, you could see Beyoncé almost physically feeling Wonder’s music, most notably on a “Higher Ground” version that threatened to out-rock the Red Hot Chili Peppers cover. Sheeran and Clark Jr. formed a surprisingly formidable guitar duo as Beyoncé brought the house down in the closing moments of “Higher Ground.”
It’s hard to top a Beyoncé performance at any all-star concert or award show, but many artists came close: Lady Gaga covered “I Wish,” Sheeran would return for “I Was Made to Love Her,” Wonder himself cherry-picked his own extensive discography for a medley of “Contusion/Sir Duke/You Are the Sunshine of My Life/Ribbon in the Sky/Overjoyed/Superstition” and Pharrell Williams (still in the bellhop uniform from his Grammy performance) and Ryan Tedder teamed up for “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing.”