“Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book is the first album I remember getting as a gift, and I got it twice, that’s how good an album it is,” Obama said, adding that her copy – as did all original pressings of the 1972 album– came with Braille lettering on the sleeve.
“I remember spending time not only listening to the record over and over again, but trying to feel the Braille and understand the words,” Obama continued. “And I would memorize the cover because there’s something about that cover with Stevie without his glasses sitting like in a canyon area in that dashiki afghan sort of thing with the braids and all of that. That cover to me was as much the experience of the album for me. I was really trying to figure out what goes on in his mind: What is he thinking? What does it feel like being blind? How does he feel music?”
Obama, who recently announced a 2019 arena tour (complete with a playlist by the Roots’ drummer), said that the first music she actually purchased for herself were Jackson 5’s 1970 singles “ABC” and “The Love You Save.”
“That’s the 45s that you played on your little makeshift record player thing – it wasn’t the big stereo that your parents allowed you to use but the thing you plugged in and you had to put that little round thing in the hole,” Obama said.
“That was the music that I was allowed to play on my own, keep the record in my bedroom kind of thing. But the Jackson 5, that was what young people… We grew up imitating the Jackson 5 and putting the record on and cousins would be Tito and I’d be Michael and my brother would be on the drums, you know. We spent the whole afternoon just shaping our performance to ‘Stop the Love You Save,’ so those were some of my first memories.”
Obama added that her family was “too broke for concerts,” and that she didn’t see a live show until the future First Lady was a sophomore in college. However, it was a memorable first gig: Obama and a girlfriend somehow wound up with front-row tickets to see Wonder performing a small benefit show in Philadelphia, and the two women were picked out by the singer’s bodyguards to join Wonder on stage to sing “Ebony & Ivory.”
“So I was standing onstage, with Stevie, by his piano, thinking, ‘What?,'” she said, adding of the singer who would eventually become a frequent guest at the Obama White House. “I never told [Wonder] about that, because he’d never remember.”