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Pop Music Review

Wonder Leads Energetic Benefit at the Forum


Stevie Wonder's holiday wish list reaches well beyond dreams of Christmas snow and glistening treetops. Reawakening the joy of a childhood Christmas is one wish, which he fulfilled musically in "I Wish," one highlight of his 4 1/2-hour House Full of Toys benefit Saturday at the Great Western Forum.

Another is that the event, now in its fifth year, will someday be international in scope. Wonder took a significant growth step this year with the move to the Forum from much smaller venues where it had taken place previously.

Saturday's concert was short of a sellout but still drew more than 10,000 fans, who generated enough toys and money to provide toys, food and clothing for more than 1,000 needy families across Los Angeles, according to officials at KJLH-FM (102.3), the sponsoring radio station--about 10 times more than have benefited previously.

Wonder tapped a slew of R&B, pop and jazz acts to help, from such hot recent arrivals as "Thong Song" star Sisqo, hip-hop songstress Mya and rock en espanol group La Ley to veterans including jazz singer Diane Schuur, smooth-jazz sax man Boney James and jazz fusion hero George Duke. Even Macy Gray--who shuttled to three of the evening's seasonal concerts-- popped in near the end for a quick song.

A tight schedule allotted each performer just a song or two--typically their big hits, which put holiday music in short supply.

Holiday spirit, however was abundant--nowhere more than in the house-afire gospel set by Kirk Franklin and One Nation.

Only Wonder himself came close to matching the power of Franklin's electrifying performance, which was part James Cleveland, part James Brown.

Having given the spotlight to others all evening, Wonder continued in sharing mode during a 70-minute concert-closing set that peaked in an exuberant version of "I Was Made to Love Her." Sisqo, Duke, Franklin, Jill Scott, Kimberly Brewer, Ellis Hall and others joined their host for a long, warm finale on "Silent Night."

"It's always been my wish to get to a place where we could be doing this all around the world," Wonder, 50, said backstage after the show as he was greeting two dozen children from L.A.'s Foundation for the Junior Blind and other groups. "You can never have enough love."

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