Stevie Wonder performs emotional musical tribute to MLK’s son Dexter Scott King in Atlanta

Stevie Wonder plays harmonica during "Total Praise," a gospel song he performed at the memorial service for Dexter Scott King on Feb. 10, 2024. (Credit: The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change)

Stevie Wonder joined mourners at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta Saturday for the candlelight memorial service honoring Dexter Scott King, the youngest son of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King, who died Jan. 30, 2024 at age 62 after a battle with cancer.

Dexter Scott King was a civil rights activist, author, and attorney who served as a chairman of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and was president of the King estate.

He was 7 when his father was assassinated in 1968 and spent much of his career working to protect the family’s intellectual property. His mother, Coretta, died in 2006, followed by his older sister, Yolanda, in 2007.

Wonder’s appearance at the Saturday memorial capped a two-hour, music-filled event led by Ebenezer pastors, including U.S. Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock, with words from MLK’s surviving children, Martin Luther King III and Rev. Bernice King, and Dexter King’s wife, Leah Weber, and performances by BeBe and CeCe Winans.

Ebenezer’s Horizon Sanctuary glowed with hundreds of candles, and solemn tones flowed from Wonder’s famous Yamaha Motif keyboard as he launched into “They Won’t Go When I Go,” a classical-inspired minor-key ballad he co-wrote with Yvonne Wright and released in 1974.

A pair of dancers moved gracefully in front of a bouquet of lilies while the Motown legend hit the verses’ soul-rumbling low notes, with members of the Celebration Choir adding rich harmonies behind him.

”The innocent will leave for sure; for them, there is a resting place,” Wonder sang, the urgency in his delivery recalling the time he played the song at a televised memorial for Michael Jackson in 2009.

Next, in his second voice—the harmonica—Wonder fronted the choir and organist in an emotional crescendo of “Total Praise,” a modern gospel hit written by Atlantan Richard Smallwood in 1996.

Stevie Wonder has a long relationship with the King family. Wonder met MLK at age 14 and was just 17 when he flew to Atlanta for King’s funeral in April 1968. He also appeared at Coretta Scott King’s funeral in Lithonia, Ga. in 2006.

He was a leading advocate in the campaign to make Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a national holiday and penned “Happy Birthday” in MLK’s honor in 1980. In recent times, Wonder has used the social media hashtag #DreamStillLives to honor the memory of King.

His performance at the memorial service for Dexter King was poignant, given the history of disagreements between the King children.

Bernice King said Saturday she had reconciled with her brother before his death and that living in the “beloved community” her father created was not without conflict but proved that the path of nonviolence, like the healing power of music, endures.

This article appears in partnership with GPB News

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