Stevie Wonder Honored at the 10th Annual Heaven Gala Celebration
“The fact that he’s still with us and still making music — I think we’re lucky, and the whole world is lucky to get Stevie Wonder as a treasure that we can enjoy,” John Legend told THR.
Red Studios was packed Saturday evening with guests in attendance for the sold-out Heaven Gala, where musician, humanitarian and the evening’s Visionary Recipient, Stevie Wonder, was honored. Additionally, actress Camilla Belle was this year’s recipient of the Spirit of Elysium Award for her volunteer work with the nonprofit organization The Art of Elysium.
This year marks the 20th anniversary since the charity was founded in 1997 and the 10th annual Heaven Gala Celebration. The nonprofit encourages screen professionals and entertainers to support and volunteer their time to programs such as hospitalized youth, homeless shelters and special needs centers. Each year, The Art of Elysium awards one individual in the entertainment industry for their time, contributions and ongoing efforts toward the cause. Past recipients include Eva Mendes and James Franco, who also was in attendance.
Upon receiving her award, Belle revealed to The Hollywood Reporter how volunteering is an integral part of her life. “We can make so many excuses, but what makes the biggest difference is giving your time and I’m a big believer in that,” she said. “Even on a Tuesday, my day is crazy, but I can fit those three hours in to go volunteer at a hospital. I'd rather do that than go see a movie — I can always do that at another time.”
Guests were excited to see what Wonder’s version of "Heaven" was going to include, as the honoree has a say in the details of the evening. The gala consisted of two rooms featuring murals from local artists on the wall, live music throughout the evening and a seven-continent-themed food menu prepared by Los Angeles-based chef Michael Voltaggio.
“It was important to Stevie that all seven continents were represented, so we went through all seven continents ending with my favorite dessert, which is going to be Antartica.” Voltaggio shared. "We’re serving dessert in a metal bucket so you can actually feel the cold in your hands while you eat it.”
Cocktails were served throughout the evening and as guests were guided to their seats, the lights remained dimmed to signify the absence of sight and to only focus on the other senses, such as smell (guests were given rosemary dipped in truffle for aroma) and touch (aviator sunglasses from REVÉ were handed out) to thoroughly enjoy the three-course meal and have the fully intended experience.
Other notable guests in attendance included Elysium Bandini Studios founder Jennifer Howell, Tony Hawk and Amber Heard. Co-chairmen Christine and Dr. Gabriel Chiu, Sarah and Gary Maness and Kaily and Adam Westbrook also were in attendance.
Prior to the evening’s festivities, Dr. Chiu shared with THR: “With everything that has happened in the past year, we all need to heal. Creativity and the arts is all part of healing. This is something we can all share, no matter what race, color, religion you happen to be.”
Ms. Chiu added: “This year we really got an opportunity to explore all facets of Stevie’s heaven and his interpretation of heaven. I think it’s especially important in Los Angeles, with so many creative opportunities and people around, for us to launch into 2017 with positivity and uniqueness. I think we’re so blessed to dive into the heaven of a legend like Stevie Wonder.”
Next year’s Heaven recipient John Legend shared his gratitude toward Wonder’s ongoing influence in his life.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Stevie and honoring him tonight," he said. "He’s been a huge influence to me, my favorite artist. The fact that he’s still with us and is still making music and happens to be a friend and mentor to me, I think we’re lucky, and the whole world is lucky to get Stevie Wonder as a treasure that we can enjoy. He’s been such a great humanitarian and he’s been such a great artist and it’s going to be great to honor him tonight.”
Wonder shared his own version of Heaven beyond what guests would see inside Red Studios. “Heaven is love. Heaven is life," he told THR. "I think what we have is all twisted on this planet. We are not doing what we need to do to make Earth as it is in Heaven, because that is what I believe it is supposed to be.”
Prior to taking the stage to play an eight-minute compilation of his music, Wonder's longtime friend and producer Quincy Jones shared a personal story of when he first met the recording artist and performer.
“We first met at the Apollo Theater when [Stevie] was 12 years old," said Jones. "[He] had just written “Fingertips” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” and from that time until now, it has been an absolute joy to have worked and played together.” Jones continued: “Until I leave this planet, I will always be there. I will have your back and do whatever I can do. In mathematical terms, multiply your joy, subtract your pain, divide your sorrow and add to your tomorrow, I promise you. Stevie, no one is more deserving of this recognition of the Art of Elysium than you.”
The evening concluded with a moving performance by Wonder, during which most of the audience was on their feet, clapping and singing along to “Sketches of a Life,” “They Won’t Go When I Go” and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.”