Stevie Wonder kneels as he leads anti-poverty concert

Stevie Wonder takes a knee with his son Kwame Wonder before performing at the 2017 Global Citizens Festival at Central Park in New York on Sunday. - Reuters

NEW YORK - Stevie Wonder knelt before a packed New York festival Sunday in a protest for peace as he led stars and politicians in pressing for sustained aid to eliminate the world's worst poverty.

On a balmy late summer night, thousands converged on Central Park for the live-broadcast Global Citizen Festival which hands out tickets for free to fans who take actions such as petitioning their governments to support development assistance.

With President Donald Trump proposing sweeping aid cuts, the concert had set a goal of building political momentum in the world's largest donor nation. But in a deeply divided United States, another Trump controversy came to the forefront.

Wonder took the stage and knelt, emulating a gesture popularized by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the national anthem to denounce racial injustice. Trump on Friday angrily denounced such protests, using profanity to demand that teams fire the athletes.

"Tonight, I'm taking a knee for America," the blind soul legend said as took to the ground, his son Kwame Morris clutching his arm.

Wonder also voiced worry over the increasingly personal venom between Trump and North Korean strongman Kim Jong-Un.

"We could lose the ultimate video game - of life - losing sight that weapons are real, and rhetoric is dangerous, whether it be from a superpower in North America or a superpower in North Korea," Wonder said.

Wonder jammed through more than an hour of his best-loved songs before turning his ever-powerful belting voice to the 1985 charity singalong "We Are the World" as well as "Imagine," the peace anthem by John Lennon who was assassinated a short stroll away.

The 67-year-old Wonder closed by bringing up a visibly star-struck Pharrell Williams, singing together a funk-heavy take of "Get Lucky," which Williams co-wrote for Daft Punk, as well as the younger artist's ode to optimism "Happy."

Green Day take aim

The diverse but heavy-hitting lineup also featured chart-topping electronic duo The Chainsmokers, rising soul star Andra Day, folk rockers The Lumineers and young Canadian pop songwriter Alessia Cara - who, in a feat of organization, also performed Sunday in Toronto at the Invictus Games for wounded soldiers and veterans.

Punk rock greats Green Day injected politics as well, with frontman Billie Joe Armstrong weaving Trump into the lyrics of "American Idiot," the band's high-octane 2004 indictment of US media culture.

Green Day turned down the volume for a second set of "Wake Me Up When September Ends" and "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)," set to a slideshow from UNICEF to show the still severe human impact of AIDS.

French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the festival by video, promising to help raise more than $1 billion for the Global Partnership for Education before a Feb. 8 conference in Senegal. - AFP