Singer Kenya Hall Photo by Lauryn Sophia Photography

A decade ago, local singer Kenya Hall and her band put on their first Stevie Wonder tribute night, and it’s happened every year since. If you’ve never been to the always-stupendous showcase of extraordinary musicianship, anchored by one of Maine’s most singular voices, this is your last chance.

Hall moved to Maine in 2001 and lives in South Portland with her partner, Will Stewart, and their 9-year-old son, Miles. She was born in Canton, Ohio, where she was raised on her parents’ record collection of classic Motown and reggae. Hall said she can’t remember a time when she wasn’t singing. When she started buying her own music, she gravitated toward hip-hop and ’90s R&B, and both genres are still in heavy rotation.

Hip-hop samples and movie soundtracks were the launchpad for Hall’s discovery of Stevie Wonder, and from there, she started working her way through his catalog. Hall said her favorite thing about Wonder’s music is the three ways his honesty expresses itself: sonically, lyrically and emotionally. “He speaks in the type of emotion that you do not need to have experienced yet to fully feel,” she said. Wonder’s 1976 album “Songs in the Key of Life” played constantly in the hospital room after her son was born, and Hall said she still sings the album track “As” fighting through tears. “It never ceases to crush me,” she said. “It’s such a powerful song.” It’s also the one Hall has always chosen to close out the Wonder shows.

If given the chance to meet Wonder, Hall said she probably would be pretty much speechless aside from asking him for a hug. “If I get that far, I’d say thank you for helping me grow.” I sure hope Hall gets that chance someday.

Kenya Hall performing at Portland House of Music. Photo by Dylan Verner

Hall said that there’s no specific reason that this is the final Wonder tribute night other that she feels 10 years is enough for now and that she’d like to turn her focus away from covers. “I want to be playing my own music to a packed Port City room,” she said.

Hall said she’s been on a writing and creating bender and has secured a winter-long residency, every other Thursday, at the soon-to-open Big Babes Tavern in South Portland. “It’s all new tunes and funk that you haven’t heard me play,” she said.


Hall’s album, “Learning for Miles, Vol. 1,” was released in 2010. Hall said she’s also been collaborating with pianist and beat pattern creator Kafari, and they’ve been performing as a duo. “It has taught me so much about the honesty it takes to be the kind of musician I want to be. It’s vibe and beat driven, what I could consider to be ‘sit down and feel life’ kind of music.

Looking back on a decade of Wonder shows, Hall said she’s always loved how everyone is always so excited to celebrate Wonder’s music, which she describes as “works of art.” “The crowds are always filled with so much love and positive energy.” Hall is not exaggerating, you literally can feel it all over.

Hall’s all-star band consists of Pete Dugas on keys, Dave Henault on drums, Evan Haines on guitar, David Thibodeau on bass, John Maclaine on trombone, Emma Stanley on trumpet, Kristina Kentigian on backing vocals, Angela Pitteroff on backing vocals, trumpet and flute, and Chas Lester on backing vocals and percussion. But that’s just the core group. Hall also has lined up a resplendent list of guest singers and musicians that includes Zach Jones, Phil Divinsky, Suzie Assam, Rene Johnson, Hannah Harleen, Douglas Gimbel, Kafari, Stu Mahan, Sam Whitman and Andy Argondizza, along with DJ Mosart212.

Signed, sealed, delivered, this is frankly awesome. The writing’s on the wall, and they’ll be playing all the hits. “We want everyone to be excited about what they’re coming to dance to,” Hall said. I don’t think she needs to worry about that one bit and can’t wait to be one of many fans to help Hall wrap up a decade of Stevie Wonder tribute nights in glorious fashion.

All proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and Citizen’s Climate Lobby. Hall said it’s the most “Stevie” way possible to end a decade of celebrating Stevie Wonder and what he embodies. Isn’t it lovely? Isn’t it wonderful?

10th Annual Stevie Wonder Tribute Night with Kenya Hall & Friends
8 p.m. Saturday. Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland, $15 in advance, $18 day of show, $25 preferred seating, 18-plus.

This story was changed at 5:06 p.m. on Dec. 24, 2019, to correct the spelling of Douglas Gimbel’s name.

Comments are not available on this story.