When Eddie Murphy Impersonated Stevie Wonder on ‘SNL’
One of Eddie Murphy's most memorable impressions while part of the Saturday Night Live cast was his take on Stevie Wonder, even though Murphy only appeared twice as the legendary soul star.
The first was on May 22, 1982, in the final episode of Season 7. Frank Sinatra (Joe Piscopo) was looking to branch out to a younger audience with an album called Frank Sings Tunes the Young People Will Enjoy. Murphy, as Wonder, gets led into the studio where Sinatra expresses his desire to record an update of "Ebony and Ivory," Wonder's then-new hit duet with Paul McCartney (or, as Sinatra called him, "the Beatle kid ... The one that looks like a broad?").
Sinatra thinks the piano-as-a-metaphor-for-racial-harmony symbolism in the lyrics is "too artsy," and comes up with new ones. Sample lyric: Wonder sings “I am dark, and you are light,” to which Sinatra responds, "You are blind as a bat, and I have sight."
Murphy reprised the impression a year later when Wonder hosted and was the musical guest. This time, he played a producer who auditions a professional Stevie Wonder impersonator (actually played by Wonder) for the Miss Black Teenage America Contest. Murphy's character is unhappy with Wonder's renditions of "Superstition" and "Living for the City" and instructs him on how to do it better. The two of them end up singing "My Cherie Amour" together.
Murphy admitted that his take on Wonder didn't sit well with everybody. In Delirious, he recalled getting cursed out by African Americans on the street. "Stevie Wonder's a musical genius," one screamed at him. "That's terrible, man. Your mother brought you up wrong. That's what it is. Your mother brought you up wrong, motherfucker."
Watch Eddie Murphy Impersonate Stevie Wonder
By then, the two had also developed a friendship. They memorably connected in 1982 during a black music convention in Atlanta, shortly after Murphy signed his own record deal. Knowing Wonder was in attendance, Murphy impersonated Wonder during his routine, complete with staggering across the stage. They were introduced afterward and Wonder jokingly told Murphy: "Mutha, you do me one more time and I'll whip you!"
As much as Murphy loved him, the comedian admitted in Delirious that Wonder's verbose tendencies drove him crazy, and he had problems dealing with the pushback. "I'm telling you you're a genius and all that shit, but you my boy, man," Murphy told Wonder while driving him around. "We hangin' and, like, it's nice and all that shit, but I don't appreciate all the flak. Personally, the piano and all the singing? I told you how I feel about the singing. I ain't impressed. You want to impress me? Take the wheel for a while, motherfucker."
Wonder wrote and produced the tracks "Do I" and "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from Murphy's musical debut, How Could It Be. Murphy later told Jimmy Kimmel that Wonder also tried to get him to be a part of the "We Are the World" project. But Murphy said he was too busy recording "Party All the Time," and didn't realize at the time how big the charity single and video were going to be.
The two have remained close throughout the years. Wonder and Murphy duetted on "Higher Ground," with backing from the Roots, on a 2012 tribute to Murphy on Spike TV. Wonder also volunteered to perform when Murphy returns to host Saturday Night Live on Dec. 21, 2019, but Lizzo had already been announced as that week's musical guest.