Stephanie Steinberg , The Detroit News
Motown legend Stevie Wonder will be honored Wednesday at the street unveiling ceremony in Detroit
Milwaukee Avenue in Detroit is going to be renamed Stevie Wonder Avenue next week.
A ceremony honoring the Motown legend will be held at noon Wednesday on the corner of Milwaukee and Woodward. Wonder, 66, is expected to attend the street-sign unveiling, along with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Detroit City Councilmembers, Wonder’s relatives, Motown celebrities and students from Wonder’s alma mater, the Michigan School for the Blind.
The public is welcome to attend the event, which will include heated tents and a performance by the Cass Technical High School choir in a College for Creative Studies parking lot.
Wonder, born Stevland Hardaway Judkins, moved from Saginaw to Detroit as a child. Milwaukee Avenue initially was selected because visitors arriving at the Detroit Amtrak station would see Stevie Wonder Avenue leading toward the Motown Museum on West Grand Boulevard, where Berry Gordy Jr. signed Wonder to Motown Records in 1961 at age 11.
It was only until Wonder told event organizers that he once lived on Milwaukee — a roughly 2-mile stretch from East Grand Boulevard to the Lodge Freeway — that they found out the street’s significance to the singer, said Tresa Galloway, owner of Exquisite Affairs by Tresa, who’s producing the event. During his time in Detroit, the family also lived on Greenlawn Street.
Wonder was unavailable for comment, but his cousin Sharon DuMas of Detroit said he was “very excited” and “appreciative” when he heard this will be the first street named after him.
“I’m glad that it happened first in Detroit because his career started here,” said DuMas, who spearheaded the effort to name the street in honor of him.
DuMas said Wonder’s first Detroit home was at Milwaukee and Brush Street, but the house has since been torn down.
The Detroit City Council approved the secondary street name last November, but Galloway said organizers waited to do the unveiling to accommodate Wonder’s schedule. From 2014-2015, Wonder was traveling with his “Songs in the Key of Life” tour, which included stops at The Palace of Auburn Hills and Joe Louis Arena.
“He was on tour and then he was involved very heavily with the Hillary (Clinton) campaign,” Galloway said, “so this is just the time we’re able to bring everyone together to make sure everyone could be involved in the project.”
Wonder has sold over 100 million records and received 25 Grammy Awards, in addition to a 1996 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. His first No. 1 hit, “Fingertips,” was released in 1963 — when he was 12 — and he later went on to record Motown favorites such as “Superstition,” “Isn’t She Lovely” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” In 1985, he won an Oscar for “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” awarded the best original song featured in the movie “The Woman in Red.”
Rolling Stone magazine ranks Wonder the ninth “greatest singer of all time” (The Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin takes the top spot.) But his laundry list of honors recognize him for more than his musical talents.
In 2014, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, along with then-Congressman John Dingell (D-Dearborn) and actress Meryl Streep.
The street name resolution presented to the Detroit City Council acknowledges Wonder’s humanitarian contributions:
“(Wonder) used his platform to discuss the taboo issues confronting the community such as poverty, war, drugs and politics; and … his extensive humanitarian work has concentrated on AIDS awareness, anti-apartheid efforts, crusades against drunk driving and drug abuse, and fundraising for blind and mentally disabled children and the homeless.”
Councilmember Mary Sheffield represents the fifth district where Stevie Wonder Avenue will be located.
“He’s inspired the nation and the world, and his music has transcended time and race. For him to have roots right here in our great city, we should honor and recognize him,” said Sheffield, who plans to speak at the ceremony.
Decades since Wonder recorded hits in Gordy’s Studio A, he hasn’t forgotten his Detroit upbringing and the people here who believed in a blind child who could sing and play multiple instruments.
“They say people don’t appreciate you in your hometown, but that hasn’t been true for me,” he told concertgoers at The Palace in 2014. “I have truly been given love from you all my life.”
While Wonder has received countless accolades, DuMas — who’s spent the past year and a half working on the street initiative — said the people of Detroit have not hosted a celebration for him.
“We wanted to take a community approach and make sure he understand that we’re proud of him, that he’s from Detroit and all the things that he’s done,” she said. “And we want to give him his flowers while he lived. We lost Michael Jackson suddenly, and Prince suddenly, so we wanted to make sure Stevie understands the community loved him as well.”
This isn’t the first time a Detroit street name has changed to recognize a hometown celebrity. In August, a block of Cottage Grove Street in Highland Park was renamed “Jackie Wilson Lane” in honor of R&B singer Jackie Wilson. In the 1970s, 12th Street was renamed Rosa Parks Boulevard.
Other streets have been granted secondary names honoring international and local figures, including Nelson Mandela Drive (Atwater Street), Rep. John Conyers (Washington Boulevard) and Aretha Franklin’s late father Rev. C.L. Franklin (Linwood Street).
Sheffield said it only makes sense to honor Wonder, who has touched the lives of so many.
“He’s brought joy through his music, he’s been able to tell stories, he’s been able to heal. He’s been able to do a little bit of everything through his music,” she said.
A proud Wonder fan, she added:
“Although he was born in Saginaw, he was ‘Signed, Sealed and Delivered’ to us right here in the city of Detroit and helped put Detroit and Motown on the map by ‘Living for the City.’ ”