The phrase "old-school" was thrown around a few times at the Forum on Saturday during Stevie Wonder's eighth annual House Full of Toys benefit, which featured Wonder along with a host of other acts, including Chaka Khan, Natalie Cole, India.Arie and "American Idol" champion Ruben Studdard.
The show did feel old-school in certain regards. For starters, as guest emcee Magic Johnson pointed out, there was a "real band playing real music." Additionally, even the up-and-coming stars, including Arie, who mentioned Sam Cooke and Donny Hathaway in her brief set, and Studdard, whom Johnson compared to Barry White and Luther Vandross after his crowd-pleasing, two-song performance, are direct descendants of the masters of R&B. And of course Wonder, Khan and Cole have been stars on the R&B scene for decades.
And it was the oldest act of all who made sure the night was more than just an exercise in nostalgia. Vibrant and vital in his role as host, Wonder set the tone early on when he joined Michael McDonald on Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" and a powerful version of "What's Going On."
Marvin Gaye's R&B anthem proved an accurate foreshadowing of Wonder's own headlining set later in the night, where he delivered the potent one-two punch of "Higher Ground" and "Living in the City."