It’s a simple little song, with a lilting melody and just eight lines, written for Stevie Wonder, who overcame his blindness to become a superstar.
But for Jason Smith, who lives in a group home in Orchard Park, the song, “I Wonder,” has brought attention, opportunity and a challenge.
Smith wrote the song with Gary Spears, his life coach. In a clip posted on the Facebook page of People Inc., Smith, 46, sings the song while Spears accompanies him on guitar.
After learning about the clip, the promoter of Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” concert scheduled for Thursday night here provided free tickets for Smith and three of his friends, including Spears.
Not one to shy away from a challenge, Smith wants 200 people to share the video from the agency’s Facebook page on their own social media accounts. As of Tuesday afternoon, the video had 144 shares and 49 likes.
“I wrote most of the words except for the last line, which was a joint effort between Gary and myself,” said Smith, who usually refers to Spears as “Daddy-O.”
“We have this synergy,” said Spears, who began working with Smith on his music five months ago. “He’s very articulate, as you can tell, and music is his passion.”
The lyrics are simple and sweet:
I wonder where I’d be if I never met you
I wonder where I’d be without your songs.
It’s a wonder how you’ve dealt with your disability
and how you’ve managed to overcome.
I wonder if you know how much you inspire me
and everyone else with a disability.
It doesn’t matter what the world may think
’cause you taught us there’s a little bit of wonder in all of us.
Smith, whose speech sometimes shows some hesitation, sings the lyrics clearly and without pause.
“Although he’s a great singer, he doesn’t have the vocal range of a Mariah Carey,” Spears said. “We write to our strengths, so here, the words are the star.”
Smith, who has written other songs and assembled a CD called “Pretty Little Angel,” was immediately inspired when he heard that Wonder would be stopping in Buffalo on his tour.
“I told Gary, ‘I want to write a song for Stevie,’ ” he said. “I can come up with words really quickly, and he’d say, ‘Hold it, let me write that down.’ ”
The composition of “I Wonder” took 15 to 20 minutes, but practicing the song has taken far longer. After memorizing the lyrics, Smith worked on his inflections and projection.
He’s basking in the attention the song has brought him, rare for a person in what Smith calls “the most misunderstood population on the planet, nonambulatory people. Everybody has this view that nonambulatory people can’t do anything, and we can do anything we darn well choose.”
“It’s very rare that people talk about people with disabilities in this way,” Spears said.
Smith, who fondly recalls Stevie Wonder concerts he attended in 1981 and ’86 at Memorial Auditorium, dreams that this time he may meet Wonder, though it hasn’t been arranged. But why not set his sights high? “I’m enjoying the ride, wherever this takes me, and I don’t plan to get off it,” said Smith, who works as a furniture refinisher at Allentown Industries. “I have talent and I’ve worked very hard at this, to get to this point.”
Longer-term, Spears and Smith hope to get a voice-activated computer that will enable Smith to produce more sophisticated music.
In his role of quality of life coach, Spears helps People Inc. participants “define their passion – what will help each of them be a more complete person, more than just receiving services.”
With Smith, “It was obviously music,” Spears said. “Gary is probably the best thing that has happened to me, besides my family and my surrogate family here. Gary, Daddy-O, is my best friend in the world. Well, one of them.”
Spears added, “I get nervous, but I’ve never seen him get nervous.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Don’t you get nervous?’ ” said Smith. “No. The Good Lord gives us gifts. He gave me talent, determination, courage and love. Am I a star? Yes, yes. Have I worked at it? Yes. Will I continue to work at it? Yes.”