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Stevie Wonder named UN 'Messenger of Peace'

Stevie Wonder poses with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Thursday morning.
Stevie Wonder poses with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Thursday morning.
  • Stevie Wonder to promote United Nations ideals and activities in new role
  • Wonder's welcome broken up by alarm; he cracked a joke
  • Other Messengers of Peace include George Clooney, Michael Douglas, Yo-Yo Ma

New York (CNN) -- Singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder has a new title on his resume: United Nations Messenger of Peace.

Wonder -- blind since birth -- will promote U.N. ideals and activities with an emphasis on championing for people with disabilities, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

When his installation announcement was briefly interrupted by a fire alarm in the U.N. Secretariat Building in New York on Thursday, Wonder broke the tension with a joke. "I'm trying to figure out a new melody," he said.

It was a false alarm caused by smoke from nearby construction, a U.N. spokesman said.

Video: Stevie Wonder false alarm

Wonder joins 10 other celebrities -- including actors George Clooney and Michael Douglas, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and primatologist Jane Goodall -- as advocates of the United Nations' work. Others include conductor Daniel Barenboim, author Paulo Coelho, violinist Midori Goto, Princess Haya Bint al Hussein, actor Charlize Theron and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.

"Our newest Messenger of Peace is someone who is admired by millions of people and has given back to millions of people," Ban Ki-moon said before the ceremony.

Wonder "has consistently used his voice and special relationship with the public to create a better and more inclusive world, to defend civil and human rights and to improve the lives of those less fortunate," the secretary-general said.

A U.N. statement cited Wonder's activism in the 1980s against apartheid in South Africa and for a national holiday in the United States honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

Wonder -- born 59 years ago in Saginaw, Michigan -- has been a star since childhood, when he was known as "Little Stevie Wonder."

In addition to his long performance career singing and playing piano, Wonder has written a long list of hit songs, including "For Once in My Life," "Superstition," "Higher Ground" and "Sir Duke."