Stevie Wonder nominated to get the Freedom of Newcastle

Stevie Wonder has been nominated to be granted the Freedom of Newcastle. Credit: PA

Musician Stevie Wonder has been nominated to get the Freedom of Newcastle.

The American singer-songwriter was nominated to get Newcastle’s top civic award in recognition of his work as a cultural “pioneer” and his efforts to commemorate the life of Martin Luther King.

If approved by councillors next week, the Superstition star would join the likes of Sir Bobby Robson, Alan Shearer, and Nelson Mandela on the city’s roll of honour.

The 72-year-old played Newcastle City Hall in 1965, when he was just a teenager on tour with a group of Motown icons including The Supremes, and again in 1967.

The acclaimed chart-topper was also instrumental in the 1980s campaign to have Dr King’s birthday made a national holiday in the USA, a cause he promoted through the release of his famous single Happy Birthday.

Dr King visited Tyneside in 1967 to receive an honorary degree from Newcastle University just months before his assassination.

Ahead of the city marking the 50-year anniversary of that visit in 2017, a delegation including Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah met with Stevie Wonder when he performed in London’s Hyde Park to discuss Dr King’s links to the North East and the commemoration plans.

Adam Collerton, from music organisation Northern Roots, was also in the group who met with the Motown great after reaching out to him as plans were being put in place for the Freedom City celebrations.

The motion being put to a council meeting by Mr Collerton next Wednesday 1 March states: “In recognition that not only is he globally recognised as a pioneer across many genres of music, he is also a renowned activist for social and political causes and a United Nations Messenger of Peace.

"The artist campaigned to create Martin Luther King Day in the USA during the 1980’s, and later met with Newcastle representatives to discuss Newcastle’s Freedom City 2017 programme of events to celebrate the award of Martin Luther King’s honorary degree from Newcastle University in 1967 – the only UK university to do so in King’s lifetime. 28 August 2023 marks the 60th anniversary of Dr King’s ‘I have a dream speech’.”

Former Newcastle United goalkeeper and anti-racism activist Shaka Hislop was last year’s Freedom of the City recipient.

Other honorees include ex-NUFC owner Freddy Shepherd, Brendan Foster, Alan Shearer, Sir Bobby Robson and Greggs PLC.

The last musician to be given the award was Sir Bob Geldof in 1986, in recognition of his work fighting poverty and famine in Africa.

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