The legendary singer and songwriter, 68, was playing to a sold-out crowd at The Borgata in Atlantic City — kicking off night one of a two-night stay with his summer concert tour, Stevie Wonder Song Party: A Celebration of Life, Love and Music.
Nearly an hour in, news broke that Sen. McCain had lost his battle with stage-four brain cancer and died at the age of 81.
Minutes later, Wonder began covering Billy Joel‘s 1977 song “Just the Way You Are.”
“This song goes out to Sen. John McCain,” Wonder said. “I wanted to see him before he left this planet, but I didn’t see him. I didn’t get the chance. But he grew to know compassion was not about any political party. It was about loving people for just the way they are.”
“God bless his soul,” Wonder continued, as the massive crowd stood in respect. “Let us send his family love. I send you all my love, all my prayers.”
Of course, it wasn’t just Sen. McCain on Wonder’s mind. He also honored the late Aretha Franklin multiple times throughout the night, including during that “Just The Way You Are” performance.
“I love you forever, Aretha,” he said.
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Wonder was one of the people who rushed to Franklin’s side earlier this month as news broke that she was gravely ill. Though the Queen of Soul was unable to speak back to him, her famed voice having fallen silent by then, Wonder told CBS This Morning that “her family felt that she could hear me.”
“We talked about doing some music, as recent as two months ago, we talked about it,” Wonder said, choking back tears. “She did incredible music, incredible singer. She touched every genre. Every singer was influenced in some way by the way she sang. They will forever be influenced by her because of her voice, her emotion, her sincerity is unforgettable.”
Franklin died on Aug. 19 of advanced pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, her publicist confirmed to PEOPLE. She was 76.
The event will be held in Detroit, where Franklin and Wonder both lived as children and began their acclaimed careers in music.
“I remember hearing her singing at the Reverend Franklin’s church when I was little — maybe I was 4 or 5 years old — because my mother would always listen to the church services on Sunday,” Wonder told CBS This Morning. “And so the voices I remember most in my life would be Dr. King, her voice, and her father, Reverend Franklin.”
“She was just consistently a great human being,” he added. “Even with whatever turmoil that may have been happening in her life, she did not put that on anybody else. She believed most of all that she was doing God’s work. … She brought joy to a lot of lives and her voice and the essence of her will stay with all of us.”
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In the meantime, Wonder will be back at The Borgata Events Center on Sunday night for the continuation of his summer tour.
Saturday’s show, which lasted for nearly two and a half hours, including a parade of hits from the Grammy winner’s acclaimed catalogue — including “Higher Ground,” “Sir Duke,” “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” “Superstition,” “My Cherie Amour,” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” (among many, many others).
Next, Wonder’s tour will play The Theater at MGM National Harbor in Maryland on Wednesday and Thursday, before wrapping up at the MassMutual Center at MGM Springfield in Massachusetts on Sept. 1.