Reading the novel The Hate U Give this year, which I didn’t even think of as a young adult book, I came across a reference to “all the black people” singing the Stevie Wonder of “Happy Birthday.”
Angie Thomas’s book has been lauded for providing perspective and emphasizing the need to speak up against injustice. Still, I wasn’t expecting to find a new perspective on birthdays! Nevertheless, I’ll admit I didn’t know about there being a Stevie Wonder birthday song.
Have you Heard This Happy Birthday?
Of course, with YouTube, it easy to enjoy Wonder’s 1981 release still today.
In the song, per Azlyrics.com, he sings:
…we all know in our minds
That there ought to be a time
That we can set aside
To show just how much we love you
And I’m sure you would agree
It couldn’t fit more perfectly
Than to have a world party on the day you came to be
While this is how I feel about birthdays overall, the song actually reflects Wonder’s campaigning to have Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday become a national holiday. The single was produced and released to raise awareness of the idea.
Encouraging the recognition of King Jr.’s birthday as a way to celebrate peace, he wrote:
It should be a great event
And the whole day should be spent
In full remembrance
Of those who lived and died for the oneness of all people.
The song did not reach Billboard’s Hot 100 that year, but it did chart for R&B and became one of Wonder’s biggest UK hits.
Birthday Song Success
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into existence. The first official MLK Jr Day, held annually the third Monday in January each year, was later commemorated with Stevie Wonder headlining a large-scale concert.
And despite my enthusiasm for birthdays and reading on the topic, I’d never encountered this before reading Thomas’s novel. This tells me something about where I have been looking for birthday information, but it also reminds me of a main reason I read so much. Picking up a book is a way to expand my perspective on the world.
I not only recommend listening to the Wonder song, but also checking out the book featuring a 16-year-old girl trying to balance two separate worlds. She lives in a poverty stricken neighborhood and early on a friend is shot by a police officer, igniting racial tensions in the area. While keeping her experience a secret from her white boyfriend and other friends at her private suburban private school, Starr Carter grapples with grief and decides whether or not to speak up as the sole witness of the shooting.
In the meantime, I hope you continue enjoying reading this blog and its many perspectives on birthdays customs.