What does Stevie Wonder’s boycott of Florida really mean?

July 16, 2013

Of all the celebrity reactions to the George Zimmerman verdict, the most far-reaching came from Stevie Wonder.

“Until the Stand Your Ground law is abolished in Florida, I will never perform there again,” he said during a Sunday-night concert in Quebec City. “Wherever I find that law exists, I will not perform in that state or in that part of the world.”


Recording artist Stevie Wonder performs onstage during the 2013 BET Awards in Los Angeles. (Mark Davis/Getty Images for BET)

It’s a bold statement — and one that could have long-term consequences for Wonder’s career. More than 20 states have Stand Your Ground laws or expansive self-defense statutes; overturning those would take years.

So the question is how Wonder literally adheres to his boycott. Does he avoid just states (and nations) that explicitly mention “stand your ground”? Or all states that have similar provisions? If the latter, that would rule out shows in Miami, Atlanta, New Orleans, Nashville, Detroit and Las Vegas. Does the ban include corporate gigs ($100K and up), or just public concerts?

“I don’t see this as having a big impact on Stevie or the state of Florida,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar, which tracks the international concert business.

Wonder hasn’t done a multi-city public tour for a while, said Bongiovanni. In 2012, he played just eight public performances; this year, there are only three on his calendar. In the past 18 months, two concerts — in Nevada and Alabama — would have been affected by his boycott. That list doesn’t include corporate jobs, which are not tracked.

** FILE ** Coretta Scott King, widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., embraces singer Stevie Wonder during a celebration on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., Nov. 3, 1983, after U.S. President Ronald Reagan signed a bill making the civil rights leader's birthday, Jan. 15, a national holiday. Wonder received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Civil Rights Museum, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2006. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
Coretta Scott King with Wonder in 1983 after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day became a national holiday. (Ron Edmonds / AP Photo)

This might be Wonder’s biggest boycott, but it’s not his first. He famously refused to perform in Arizona until it recognized Martin Luther King’s birthday as a national holiday, and he wouldn’t appear at South Africa’s Sun City resort because of the country’s apartheid policy. Last year, he canceled a benefit concert for Israeli soldiers, citing his anti-war beliefs.

Most celebrity boycotts target a business and ask fans to withhold their dollars: Lady Gaga’s call to boycott BP gas stations because of the Gulf oil spill; Ed Helms‘s abandoning Chick-fil-A over gay-rights issues; Charlize Theron’s urging everyone to shun Nobu restaurant because it served endangered blue-fin tuna.

The big question is not Wonder’s individual boycott, said Bongiovanni: “The real impact will be if other major artists take Stevie’s lead against Stand Your Ground.”

Reps for Wonder and CAA, which handles the musician’s tours, did not respond for comment.

Earlier: Stevie Wonder vows to boycott Florida over Trayvon Martin (video), 7/16/13

More Reliable Source: Cory MonteithTrey RadelStephanie CutterJay CarneyEliot Spitzer;Matthew PerryDana BashFrench embassy

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