Motown performer has Stevie Wonder’s seal of approval

Motown performer has Stevie Wonder’s seal of approval

Grammy-nominated singer to perform songs by music icons

Ryan Shaw isn’t intimidated to take on iconic Motown songs for a Juneau audience.

The New York City-based, Grammy-nominated singer who will be part of the Motown for Our Town concert Friday night said that’s what happens when you twice sing Stevie Wonder songs in front of the iconic singer and get his seal of approval.

“That first time was a life-changing moment,” Shaw said in an interview ahead of Friday’s show.

Shaw played Wonder in the Broadway show “Motown the Musical,” and said the first time he met Wonder was a surprise after a friends-and-family show of the musical.

[Back for mo’ Motown]

“After we got done, some cast members said, ‘I think Stevie was in the audience,’” Shaw said, but he was skeptical.

Minutes later, Shaw was called to a fellow performer’s dressing room — Wonder was backstage.

In a surreal moment, Berry Gordy, founder of the Motown record label who wrote the book for the musical, introduced Shaw to the singer responsible for “Uptight” and “Isn’t She Lovely” and a handful of classic albums.

“During the show in ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered,’ which is the big Stevie Wonder moment, I sing this riff that he doesn’t do in the song,” Shaw said. “He sang the riff back to me and said he liked it. Then, all the pressure was off.”

Shaw said Gordy was a regular presence during the musical and was generally kind. That also helps when approaching Motown music, too.

“He said some really great things,” Shaw said. “About 30 years too late, but it was cool. He would say, ‘I wish I would’ve met you when I started Motown. We could’ve had some fun.”

Motown was a profoundly influential record label founded in 1959 that draws its name from Detroits Motor City nickname. Artists associated with the label include Wonder, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, the Temptations, Gladys Knight among others.

This is the second time Shaw has performed in Juneau, and he said a pleasant initial experience is part of the reason he’s back.

Last year, Shaw performed at the annual Motown for Our Town show after being invited by the Rev. Bobby Lewis. Lewis leads a week of gospel workshops and a pair of gospel performances during February and Shaw is a member of Lewis’ church in Harlem.

“He was like you got to come to Juneau in the winter,” Shaw said. “Last year was my first time being able to come. My schedule cleared enough to come, and I had such a blast that I came back again.”

Shaw will also perform during the gospel celebrations and said he is charmed by a snow-coated Juneau that’s a lot different from New York and Decatur, Georgia, where Shaw grew up.

“That’s the culture shock — just seeing those majestic mountains,” Shaw said. “I think the thing I love most about Juneau is it’s a different city every 20 minutes depending on where the sun is, so the mountains change and the colors change. You look out the window one time and it takes your breath away, and you look again and it takes your breath away in a different way.”

The Motown for Our Town show starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center.

It is a collaboration between the Black Awareness Association of Juneau and Juneau Arts & Humanities Council. The event is a celebration of Black History month and the 60th anniversary of the founding of Motown.

Shaw said to expect to hear songs by Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, the Four Tops and other acts associated with the Detroit label courtesy of a blend of local musicians and singers as well as visiting performers such as Shaw, Lewis and pianist Eustace Johnson, who is also visiting from Harlem.

Shaw said gelling with performers has been a rewarding experience.

“Something about music and musicianship and on a certain level it almost feels like most of your life you’ve known these people,” Shaw said. “You just jump in and that musical connection becomes a thing. The spirit of a musician to another musician is very much a kindred spirit.”

Know & Go

What: Motown for Our Town

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Juneau Arts & Culture Center, 350 Whittier St.

Admission: $30 for general admission.


• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.


More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Nov. 27

Molly Yazwinski holds a 3,000-year-old moose skull with antlers still attached, found in a river on Alaska’s North Slope. Her aunt, Pam Groves, steadies an inflatable canoe. (Courtesy Photo /Dan Mann)

 

2. A 14,000-year-old fragment of a moose antler, top left, rests on a sand bar of a northern river next to the bones of ice-age horses, caribou and muskoxen, as well as the horns of a steppe bison. Photo by Pam Groves.

 

3. Moose such as this one, photographed this year near Whitehorse in the Yukon, may have been present in Alaska as long as people have. Photo by Ned Rozell.
Alaska Science Forum: Ancient moose antlers hint of early arrival

When a great deal of Earth’s water was locked up within mountains… Continue reading

FILE - Freight train cars sit in a Norfolk Southern rail yard on Sept. 14, 2022, in Atlanta. The Biden administration is saying the U.S. economy would face a severe economic shock if senators don't pass legislation this week to avert a rail worker strike. The administration is delivering that message personally to Democratic senators in a closed-door session Thursday, Dec. 1.  (AP Photo / Danny Karnik)
Congress votes to avert rail strike amid dire warnings

President vows to quickly sign the bill.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Juneau state Sen. Jesse Kiehl, left, gives a legislative proclamation to former longtime Juneau Assembly member Loren Jones, following Kiehl’s speech at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce’s weekly luncheon Thursday at the Juneau Moose Family Center.
Cloudy economy, but sunnier political outlook lie ahead for lawmakers, Kiehl says

Juneau’s state senator tells Chamber of Commerce bipartisan majority a key to meaningful action

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Friday, Dec. 2

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Hunter credits community members for Thanksgiving rescue

KENAI — On Thanksgiving, Alaska Wildlife Troopers released a dispatch about a… Continue reading

The snowy steps of the Alaska State Capitol are scheduled to see a Nativity scene during an hour-long gathering starting at 4 p.m. Friday which, in the words of a local organizer, is “for families to start their Gallery Walk in a prayerful manner.” But two Outside groups dedicated to placing Nativity scenes at as many state capitol buildings as possible are proclaiming it a victory against the so-called “war on Christmas.” The head of Alaska’s Legislative Affairs Agency, which has administrative oversight of the building, said the gathering is legal since a wide variety of events occur all the time, often with religious overtones, but the placement of a fixed or unattended display is illegal. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
Scene and heard: Religious freedom groups say Nativity event makes statement

State officials say happening planned for Capitol relatively common and legal.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Thursday, Dec. 1

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Steve Lewis, foreground, and Stephen Sorensen from the Alaska State Review Board scan ballots from precincts where they were hand counted at the Division of Elections office Nov. 15. Board officials spent the period between the Nov. 8 election and its certification Wednesday performing about 20 different to verify the results. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Election certified, but challenges pending

Outcome of at least two state House races unknown, which may determine chamber’s leadership

Most Read