Stevie Wonder wanted to make sure the crowd of 60,000 acknowledged the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. So Wonder took the microphone from Ban, and reminded everyone “there are rock stars and there are rock stars.”
Ban, Wonder said, is a “genuine rock star” and a “leader among leaders.” Wonder should know: he has served as a messenger for peace for the U.N. since 2009. Wonder gave the final, rousing performance Saturday at New York’s Central Park of the 2013 Global Citizens Festival, the concert held to eradicate extreme global poverty.
“This is a world celebration,” Wonder said in between sets. “We will end extreme world poverty in our lifetime.”
Organized by Australian philanthropist Hugh Evans, the Global Citizens Festival is free for attendees—although they have to earn their tickets. Tickets came via an online lottery, which one could only enter by spreading the word about the cause or volunteering to end world poverty. Performers included Wonder, Kings of Leon, Alicia Keys, and John Mayer. Among the presenters were will.i.am, Olivia Wilde, Gerard Butler, and Bono, who introduced Wonder. And dignitaries such as Ban, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Malawian president Joyce Banda also presented.
“This is not just a concert—we are building a movement of yearlong action by thousands of citizens,” Evans said prior to the concert.
Last year’s festival earned $1.3 billion, but this year, Evans had four major policy goals in mind rather than fundraising: women’s equality, education, global health, and global partnerships. Backers of this year’s festival included the Cotton On Foundation, HP, the Sumner N. Redstone Foundation, the Pratt Foundation, FedEx, Coca-Cola, and Citibank. Nonprofit foundations sponsors included the Global Partnership for Education, A World at Schools Initiative, The Earth Institute, Women Deliver, World Food Program USA, and more.
In addition to the calls to end extreme poverty, there were also mentions of politics as well. Evans asked the audience to reject Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s slashing of HIV/AIDS funding, while Wonder called the country’s gun laws “ridiculous,” miming a blind person carrying a gun.
In all seriousness, as he played a riff of “Imagine,” Wonder invoked John Lennon, who had been killed so close by. “Every time I sing this song, it brings such emotions to my heart,” Wonder said. “Most of all, to know that we lost this man because of a gun, because we don’t have laws dealing strongly enough with mental illness, we lost a great man. We’ve lost many great men and women and children. We have to do something about it.”