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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Stevie Wonder at a conference in Salvador, Brazil in July 2006
|Birth name||Stevland Hardaway Judkins|
|Also known as||Stevland Hardaway Morris, Little Stevie Wonder, Eivets Rednow|
|Born||May 13, 1950 (1950-05-13) (age 60)
|Genres||R&B, pop, soul, jazz, funk|
|Occupations||Singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, activist|
|Instruments||Vocals, synthesizer, piano, keyboards, harmonica, drums, bass guitar, congas, bongos, clavinet, melodica, keytar, accordion|
Stevland Hardaway Judkins (born May 13, 1950), name later changed to Stevland Hardaway Morris, known by his stage name Stevie Wonder, is an American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer and activist. Blind since shortly after birth, Wonder signed with Motown Records‘ Tamla label at the age of eleven, and continues to perform and record for Motown to this day.
Among Wonder’s best known works are singles such as “Superstition“, “Sir Duke“, “I Wish” and “I Just Called to Say I Love You“. Well known albums also include Talking Book, Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life. He has recorded more than thirty U.S. top ten hits and received twenty-two Grammy Awards, the most ever awarded to a male solo artist. Wonder is also noted for his work as an activist for political causes, including his 1980 campaign to make Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s birthday a holiday in the United States. In 2009, Wonder was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace. In 2008, Billboard magazine released a list of the Hot 100 All-Time Top Artists to celebrate the US singles chart’s fiftieth anniversary, with Wonder at number five.
Stevie Wonder was born in Saginaw, Michigan in 1950, being the third of six children to Calvin Judkins and Lula Mae Hardaway. Owing to his being born six weeks premature, the blood vessels at the back of his eyes had not yet reached the front and their aborted growth caused the retinas to detach. The medical term for this condition is retinopathy of prematurity, or ROP, and while it may have been exacerbated by the oxygen pumped into his incubator, this was not the primary cause of his blindness.
When Stevie Wonder was four, his mother left his father and moved herself and her children to Detroit. She changed her name back to Lula Hardaway and later changed her son’s surname to Morris, partly because of relatives. Morris has remained Stevie Wonder’s legal name ever since. He began playing instruments at an early age, including piano, harmonica, drums and bass. During childhood he was active in his church choir.
Discovery and early Motown recordings
Ronnie White of The Miracles gives credit to his brother Gerald White for persistently nagging him to come to his friend’s house in 1961 to check out Stevie Wonder. Afterward, White brought Wonder and his mother to Motown Records. Impressed by the young musician, Motown CEO Berry Gordy signed Wonder to Motown’s Tamla label with the name Little Stevie Wonder. Before signing, producer Clarence Paul gave Wonder his trademark name after stating “we can’t keep calling him the eighth wonder of the world”. He then recorded the regional Detroit single, “I Call It Pretty Music, But the Old People Call It the Blues”, which was released on Tamla in late 1961. Wonder released his first two albums, The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie and Tribute to Uncle Ray, in 1962, to little success.
Early success: 1963–1971
By age 13, Wonder had a major hit, “Fingertips (Pt. 2)“, a 1963 single taken from a live recording of a Motor Town Revue performance, issued on the album Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius. The song, featuring Wonder on vocals, bongos, and harmonica, and a young Marvin Gaye on drums, was a #1 hit on the U.S. pop and R&B charts and launched him into the public consciousness.
In 1964, Stevie Wonder made his film debut in Muscle Beach Party as himself, credited as “Little Stevie Wonder”. He returned in the sequel released five months later, Bikini Beach. He performed on-screen in both films, singing “Happy Street,” and “Happy Feelin’ (Dance and Shout),” respectively.
Dropping the “Little” from his moniker, Wonder went on to have a number of other hits during the mid-1960s, including “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)“, “With a Child’s Heart”, and “Blowin’ in the Wind“, a Bob Dylan cover which was one of the first songs to reflect Wonder’s social consciousness, co-sung by his mentor, producer Clarence Paul. He also began to work in the Motown songwriting department, composing songs both for himself and his label mates, including “Tears of a Clown“, a number one hit performed by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles.
Classic period: 1972–1976
Wonder independently recorded two albums, which he used as a bargaining tool while negotiating with Motown. Eventually the label agreed to his demands for full creative control and the rights to his own songs. The 120-page contract shattered precedent at Motown and additionally gave Wonder a much higher royalty rate. Wonder returned to Motown in March 1972 with Music of My Mind. Unlike most previous artist LPs on Motown, which usually consisted of a collection of singles, B-sides and covers, Music of My Mind was a full-length artistic statement with songs flowing together thematically. Wonder’s lyrics dealt with social, political, and mystical themes as well as standard romantic ones, while musically Wonder began exploring overdubbing and recording most of the instrumental parts himself.Music of My Mind marked the beginning of a long collaboration with
The song features a rocking groove that garnered Wonder an additional audience on rock radio stations. Talking Book also featured “You Are the Sunshine of My Life“, which also peaked at No. 1. During the same time as the album’s release, Stevie Wonder began touring with the Rolling Stones to alleviate the negative effects from pigeon-holing as a result of being an R&B artist in America. Wonder’s touring with The Rolling Stones was also a factor behind the success of both “Superstition” and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”. Between them, the two songs won three Grammy Awards. On an episode of the children’s television show Sesame Street that aired in April 1973, Wonder and his band performed “Superstition”, as well as an original song called “Sesame Street Song”, which demonstrated his abilities with the “talk box”.
Innervisions, released in 1973, featured “Higher Ground” (#4 on the pop charts) as well as the trenchant “Living for the City” (#8). Both songs reached No. 1 on the R&B charts. Popular ballads such as “Golden Lady” and “All in Love Is Fair” were also present, in a mixture of moods that nevertheless held together as a unified whole. Innervisions generated three more Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. The album is ranked #23 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Wonder had become the most influential and acclaimed black musician of the early 1970s.
On August 6, 1973, Wonder was in a serious automobile accident while on tour in North Carolina, when a car in which he was riding rear-ended a flatbed truck, sliding under the back of the truck and causing the bed of the truck to crash through the car’s windshield, striking Wonder in the head. This left him in a coma for four days and resulted in a partial loss of his sense of smell and a temporary loss of sense of taste.
Despite the setback, Wonder recovered all of his musical faculties, and re-appeared in concert at Madison Square Garden in March 1974 with a performance that highlighted both up-tempo material and long, building improvisations on mid-tempo songs such as “Living for the City“. The album Fulfillingness’ First Finale appeared in July 1974 and set two hits high on the pop charts: the #1 “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” and the Top Ten “Boogie On Reggae Woman“. The Album of the Year was again one of three Grammys won.
The same year Wonder took part in a Los Angeles jam session which would become known by the bootleg album A Toot and a Snore in ’74. He also co-wrote and produced the Syreeta Wright album Stevie Wonder Presents: Syreeta.
The double album-with-extra-EP Songs in the Key of Life, was released in September 1976. Sprawling in style, unlimited in ambition, and sometimes lyrically difficult to fathom, the album was hard for some listeners to assimilate, yet is regarded by many as Wonder’s crowning achievement and one of the most recognizable and accomplished albums in pop music history. The album became the first of an American artist to debut straight at #1 in the Billboard charts, where it remained for 14 non-consecutive weeks. Two tracks, became #1 Pop/R&B hits “I Wish” and “Sir Duke“. The baby-celebratory “Isn’t She Lovely?” was written about his newborn daughter Aisha, while songs such as “Love’s in Need of Love Today” (which years later Wonder would perform at the post-September 11, 2001 America: A Tribute to Heroes telethon) and “Village Ghetto Land” reflected a far more pensive mood. Songs in the Key of Life won Album of the Year and two other Grammys. The album ranks 56th on Rolling Stone Magazine‘s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Wonder’s “classic period” is generally agreed to consist of the concept albums he created in the early- to mid-1970s, peaking in 1976. Some observers see in 1971’s Where I’m Coming From certain indications of the beginning of the classic period, such as its new funky keyboard style which Wonder used throughout the classic period. Some determine Wonder’s first “classic” album to be 1972’s Music of My Mind, on which he attained personal control of production, and on which he programmed a series of songs integrated with one another to make a concept album. Others skip over early 1972 and determine the beginning of the classic period to be Talking Book in late 1972, the album in which Wonder “hit his stride”.
After such a concentrated and sustained level of creativity, Wonder stopped recording for three years, releasing only the 3 LP Looking Back, an anthology of his first Motown period. The albums Wonder released during this period were very influential on the music world: the 1983 Rolling Stone Record Guide said they “pioneered stylistic approaches that helped to determine the shape of pop music for the next decade”; Rolling Stone magazine’s 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time included four of the five albums, with three in the top 90; and in 2005, Kanye West said of his own work, “I’m not trying to compete with what’s out there now. I’m really trying to compete with Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life. It sounds musically blasphemous to say something like that, but why not set that as your bar?”
In 1968 he recorded an album of instrumental soul/jazz tracks, mostly harmonica solos, under the pseudonym (and title) Eivets Rednow, which is “Stevie Wonder” spelled backwards. The album failed to get much attention, and its only single, a cover of “Alfie”, only reached number 66 on the U.S. Pop charts and number 11 on the U.S. Adult Contemporary charts. Nonetheless, he managed to score several hits between 1968 and 1970 such as “I Was Made to Love Her“; “For Once in My Life” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours“. In September 1970, at the age of 20, Wonder married Syreeta Wright, a former company secretary for Motown and songwriter. For his next album known as Where I’m Coming From, his newlywed wife Syreeta gave him a helping hand with the writing and producing aspects, with the permission of Gordy. The album flopped in the charts. Reaching his twenty-first birthday on May 13, 1971, he allowed his Motown contract to expire.
In 1970, Wonder co-wrote, and played numerous instruments on the hit “It’s a Shame” for fellow Motown act The Spinners. His contribution was meant to be a showcase of his talent and thus a weapon in his ongoing negotiations with Gordy about creative autonomy.
END OF PART ONE MORE TO COME FROM THIS MASTER OF MUSIC.