On this day in music history: May 15, 1982 – “Ebony And Ivory” by Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder hits #1 on the Hot 100 for 7 weeks, topping the Adult Contemporary chart for 5 weeks on the same date, and peaking at #8 on the R&B singles chart on May 8, 1982. Written by Paul McCartney, it is the eighth solo chart topper for McCartney and the seventh for Wonder. Comedian Spike Milligan provides McCartney with the initial inspiration to write the song when he hears him say, “black notes, white notes, and you need to play the two to make harmony, folks!”. Taking the quote to heart, McCartney writes the song as a positive message of unity among all people. The first version of the song is a solo demo version, recorded by Paul alone in 1980. Feeling that it will work better as a duet, he immediately thinks of Stevie Wonder. A short time later, Stevie runs into Paul’s father in law Lee Eastman, who tells Stevie about the song Paul has written. Wonder asks that a copy of the demo be forwarded to him. He agrees to do the song, and the two superstar musicians meet in the studio in late February of 1981. Recording at AIR Studios on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, the pair record the basic tracks and vocals within a few days (February 26 – March 1, 1981) along with a second duet titled “What’s That You’re Doing?”. Released on March 29, 1982 as the first single from Paul McCartney’s “Tug Of War” album, the single is an immediate smash. The success of the song is additionally supported by a video (directed by longtime collaborator Keith McMillan) that features the pair playing and singing together, though due to scheduling conflicts, McCartney films his parts in London, while Wonder films his in Los Angeles, being brought seamlessly together through the then groundbreaking chroma-key video editing. Entering the Hot 100 at #29 on April 10, 1982, it rockets to the top of the chart five weeks later. The single receives three Grammy nominations including Record and Song Of The Year in 1983. The record marks the first time that any member of The Beatles appears on the Billboard R&B singles chart. At the time it is still on the charts, “Ebony And Ivory” is parodied in a Saturday Night Live sketch with Eddie Murphy as Stevie Wonder, performing the duet opposite Joe Piscopo as Frank Sinatra. Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder perform the song live together in 2011 at the White House when McCartney receives the Gershwin Prize for his lifetime contributions to popular music from President Barack Obama. “Ebony And Ivory” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
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