See Stevie Wonder Play “Superstition” and Banter with Grover on Sesame Street in 1973

In 1969, Sesame Street debuted and intro­duced America’s children—growing up in the midst of intense dis­putes over integration—to its urban sen­si­bil­i­ties and mul­ti­cul­tur­al cast, all dri­ven by the lat­est in child­hood devel­op­ment research and Jim Hen­son wiz­ardry. Despite the racial­ly frac­tious times of its ori­gin, the show was a suc­cess (although the state of Mis­sis­sip­pi briefly banned it in 1970), and its list of celebri­ty guests from every con­ceiv­able domain reflect­ed the diver­si­ty of its cast and hip­ness of its tone. With cer­tain excep­tions (par­tic­u­lar­ly in lat­er per­mu­ta­tions), it’s always been a show that knew how to gauge the tenor of the times and appeal broad­ly to both chil­dren and their weary, cap­tive guardians.

Being one of those weary cap­tives, I can’t say enough how grate­ful I’ve been when a rec­og­niz­able face inter­rupts Elmo’s bab­bling to sing a song or do a lit­tle com­e­dy bit, wink­ing at the par­ents all the while. These moments are few­er and far­ther between in the lat­er ages of the show, but in the sev­en­ties, Sesame Street had musi­cal rou­tines wor­thy of Sat­ur­day Night Live. Take, for exam­ple, the 1973 appear­ance of Ste­vie Won­der on the show. While I was born too late to catch this when it aired, there’s no doubt that the child me would find Won­der and his band as funky as the grown-up par­ent does. Check them out above doing “Super­sti­tion.”

Like most musi­cal artists who vis­it the show, Ste­vie also cooked some­thing espe­cial­ly for the kids. In the clip above, watch him do a lit­tle num­ber called “123 Sesame Street.” Won­der breaks out the talk box, a favorite gad­get of his (he turned Framp­ton on to it). The band gets so into it, you’d think this was a cut off their lat­est album, and the kids (the show nev­er used child actors) rock out like only sev­en­ties kids can. The show’s orig­i­nal theme song had its charm, but why the pro­duc­ers didn’t imme­di­ate­ly change it to this is beyond me. I’d pay vin­tage vinyl prices to get it on record.

Final­ly, in our last clip from Stevie’s won­der­ful guest spot, he takes a break from full-on funk and roll to give Grover a lit­tle scat les­son and show off his pipes. The great Frank Oz as the voice of Grover is, as always, a per­fect com­ic foil.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Philip Glass Com­pos­es for Sesame Street (1979)

Mon­ster­piece The­ater Presents Wait­ing for Elmo, Calls BS on Samuel Beck­ett

Jim Hen­son Pilots The Mup­pet Show with Adult Episode, “Sex and Vio­lence” (1975)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • J Adams says:

    My 4 yo son dis­cov­ered Ste­vie and his band singing Super­sti­tion on a col­lec­tion of old Sesame Street clips on youtube last night and LOVED it. So much funki­er and less “kid­dy” than a lot of kids’ pro­gram­ming these days so I think that is what he appre­ci­at­ed. (Plus he seems to nat­u­ral­ly love funk, swing-soul, etc.) Thanks for shar­ing about the 123 Sesame Street which I did not know. I promised to buy him the Super­sti­tion song so we can dance to it at home. Found it plus the “123 Sesame Street” song as sin­gles through ama­zon (not an LP but at least a dig­i­tal ver­sion).

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