Watch when Stevie Wonder brought the world to tears with stirring cover of 'Imagine'

6 September 2021, 16:32

Stevie Wonder performing at the 1996 Olympic closing ceremony in Atlanta, and Stevie Wonder on stage with John Lennon.
Stevie Wonder performing at the 1996 Olympic closing ceremony in Atlanta, and Stevie Wonder on stage with John Lennon. Picture: Getty

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

The opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympic games every four years are always star-studded affairs.

Held in Atlanta, the 1996 Olympic games closing ceremony however was one for the ages.

This was mainly due to soul legend Stevie Wonder's beautiful tribute to his friend John Lennon, ending the closing ceremony with an emotional cover of 'Imagine'.

Read more: The 10 greatest John Lennon songs, ranked

In a lineup that included the likes of Gloria Estefan, Sheila E., B.B. King, Little Richard, and the Pointer Sisters, it was Stevie that bookended a lush performance that honoured American popular music through the years.

What began as a New Orleans-style funeral procession quickly transformed into a vibrant celebration complete with swing music and choreographed performances.

Then Stevie came on stage.

The spotlight shone on Stevie in the darkness as the song begins, who proceeds to light up the arena with a truly magical moment in Olympics history.

Backed by a choir and orchestra, he goes on to sing his version of 'Imagine' which incorporated soulful instrumentation and choral chanting that backed Stevie's incredible vocal.

Read more: Stevie Wonder's 20 greatest ever songs, ranked

'Imagine' is undoubtedly one of the most globally recognised and unifying songs of the past half-century, and Stevie had the entire 85,000-strong crowd in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Stadium swaying and singing together, arm in arm. Let alone the estimated global audience of nearly 40 million.

It would've been just the way that John Lennon imagined it.

Stevie performed 'Imagine' to a crowd of 85,000 people inside the stadium. (Photo by Atlanta Journal Constitution, John Spink)
Stevie performed 'Imagine' to a crowd of 85,000 people inside the stadium. (Photo by Atlanta Journal Constitution, John Spink). Picture: Atlanta Journal Constitution
Stevie Wonder performing at the 1996 Olympic closing ceremony in Atlanta.
Stevie Wonder performing at the 1996 Olympic closing ceremony in Atlanta. Picture: Olympics

During Stevie's coda in the final passage of his rendition, he sings: "Try to imagine such a world, of unity, and harmony, and everybody together" with such passion he lifts himself up from his piano seat which elevates his voice to even further heights.

On the evidence of his incredibly moving version, there's no more fitting artist to pass on Lennon's message of love and peace than Stevie.

Read more: John Lennon's tragic death remembered 40 years later: How the world reacted

'Imagine' was performed again by the British children's choir at the London 2012 closing ceremony, in dedication to John Lennon and the impact that the iconic Beatle had on British popular culture.

Other versions also made it into the opening ceremonies at the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang in 2018 and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics games, given the song's universal impact.

Stevie Wonder performing on stage with John Lennon at Madison Square Garden, New York in 1972.
Stevie Wonder performing on stage with John Lennon at Madison Square Garden, New York in 1972. Picture: Twitter

Stevie was famously good friends with John Lennon, and has performed 'Imagine' many times in his live sets since the 1996 Olympics closing ceremony in Atlanta.

He was one of only a handful of artists ever to perform with both John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Read more: The heartbreaking moment Stevie Wonder announces John Lennon’s death to fans at concert

One thing is certain, is Stevie's unbreakable connection to both Lennon and the beloved anthem of peace.