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IU African American Arts Institute

Last modified: Thursday, April 19, 2007

IU African American Arts Institute to honor musician Isaiah Sanders

Sanders played with Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, The Emotions

April 19, 2007

Isaiah Sanders

Isaiah Sanders

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University's African American Arts Institute is honoring keyboardist, composer, producer and arranger Isaiah Sanders, who has performed with Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, female singing group The Emotions, as well as Bob Dylan, Al Green and many other musical performers.

Sanders will be honored at the AAAI's annual awards banquet on Monday (April 23). Each year, a distinguished alumnus or institute affiliate is honored with its achievement award. The event is not open to the public.

Born and raised in Jackson, Miss., Sanders received a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and anthropology from Knox College. After graduation, he began working at a television station in Jackson and played in several local bands.

Two years later, he left Jackson because of his passion for music and enrolled at IU, where he studied piano, arranging, jazz studies, graduate studies in ethnomusicology and was an instructor for the IU Soul Revue. He left the graduate program to accept a part-time teaching position at Columbia College in Chicago.

He soon became the keyboard player for female singing group The Emotions, which then had its first international hit single, "You've Got the Best Of My Love." He went on tour with The Emotions, which was the opening act for Earth, Wind, & Fire.

After two tours with The Emotions, Sanders moved to Los Angeles and for 16 years worked with superstar Stevie Wonder. He contributed to many of Wonder's 19 Grammy-winning recordings.

He performed on Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, one of Wonder's many platinum albums, as well as Hotter Than July, In Square Circle, Stevie Wonder's Original Musiquarium 1, Natural Wonder, and the soundtracks to "The Woman In Red" and "Jungle Fever." "The Woman in Red" soundtrack featured Wonder's biggest hit, "I Just Called to Say I Love You," which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Sanders then became keybordist for "King of Pop" Michael Jackson and performed for seven years with Jackson on several world tours and concerts. He has also performed on various concerts and shows with Dylan, Green, Carlos Santana, Melissa Etheridge, Slash, Brian McKnight, Jermaine Jackson, Dionne Warwick, D'Angelo, Tina Marie, Coolio, Etta James, Johnny Gill, and others. His travels have taken him to 47 states, six continents, and 52 countries. He continues to be based in Los Angeles, where he also produces, arranges and composes for television, film and other projects.

The African American Arts Institute is the only collegiate arts program with an emphasis in African American performance traditions through credit-bearing ensembles. Over the last 32 years, the AAAI has made a vital contribution to the cultural diversity of IU by preserving, promoting and celebrating African American arts traditions. The Institute's current executive director is Charles E. Sykes.