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Stevie Wonder mixes political messages, powerful music as he revisits a classic in tour opener

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NEW YORK — Stevie Wonder has always blended his musical genius with social activism, and as he launched his new tour, he stayed true to form, advocating gun control, pleading for an end to racism and promoting equality for those with disabilities.

"I challenge America, I challenge the world, to let hatred go, to let racism go," Wonder told the sold-out audience at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. "That is the only way we will win as a nation and the world."

Wonder's "Songs in the Key of Life" tour was dedicated to the music from that groundbreaking double album, which included classic hits like "Sir Duke," ''I Wish," ''As" and "Isn't She Lovely." A legendary album celebrated as much for its musicality as its message, the 1976 project won multiple Grammy Awards and further cemented Wonder's brilliance.

The music still resonates, as Wonder proved during an electrifying concert that ran for almost three hours (including intermission) and had the audience roaring and standing on its feet in approval.

There were lighthearted moments, such as when Wonder confessed to a flub mid-song — "I forgot my own words," he said, laughing early on.

He also dismissed recent reports that his partner is having triplets — it's just one baby.

"I don't know who started that bull," he said, eliciting laughter. He then brought his infant daughter, Zaiah, onstage for a performance of "Isn't She Lovely," which he wrote for daughter Aisha Morris — one of his background singers — years ago.

PHOTO: FILE - In this June 29, 2014 file photo, US singer Stevie Wonder performs at the Calling festival, in London. Wonder performed Thursday, Nov. 6, at Madison Square Garden in New York. His "Songs in the Key of Life" tour was dedicated to the music from that groundbreaking double album, which included classic hits like "Sir Duke," "I Wish," "As" and "Isn't She Lovely."   (Photo by Jim Ross/Invision/AP, File)
FILE - In this June 29, 2014 file photo, US singer Stevie Wonder performs at the Calling festival, in London. Wonder performed Thursday, Nov. 6, at Madison Square Garden in New York. His "Songs in the Key of Life" tour was dedicated to the music from that groundbreaking double album, which included classic hits like "Sir Duke," "I Wish," "As" and "Isn't She Lovely." (Photo by Jim Ross/Invision/AP, File)

Wonder was overcome with emotion at one point as he sang "Summer Soft," as tears streamed down his face. A backup singer had to perform with Wonder, who was seemingly unable to find his voice.

But he was in fine form for most of the concert, playing various instruments, including harmonica, with a huge band.

He also made sure his viewpoint was heard on various issues. He invited the family of 6-year-old Ana Grace Marquez-Greene, one of 26 killed by a gunman in the Sandy Hook tragedy of 2012. Wonder acknowledged father Jimmy Greene, wife Nelba Marquez-Greene and 10-year-old brother Isaiah Marquez-Greene in the audience as he spoke about gun control.

"The only thing that guns do is make the gun manufacturers rich and the mortuaries richer," he said.

He also called for the creation of better services for disabled and challenged residents in New York City.

"I want there to be accessibility for anybody who is deaf, who is a paraplegic," he said.

Though the tour was dedicated to "Songs in the Key of Life," Wonder included one classic song that wasn't on that album — "Superstition."

Wonder's tour, which included Grammy-winning singer India.arie, ends in December in the Los Angeles area.

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