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Stevie Wonder is a blind musician, songwriter, music producer, and singer from the United States. He is an extremely influential and successful musician and performer with his popular and extensive discography. He won 25 Grammys during his career, the Gershwin Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the United Nations named him a Messenger of Peace.

Childhood and Blindness

Stevie Wonder was born Stevland Hardaway Judkins on May 13, 1950, in Sagina, Michigan.

Stevie Wonder went blind as a premature infant.

He became Stevland Morris after his mother remarried.[1] [2] Stevie Wonder was born premature and doctors placed him in an incubator for oxygen treatments and the excess oxygen caused him to go blind by exacerbating a common condition in premature infants called retinopathy of prematurity.

Stevie Wonder’s family moved to Detroit, Michigan, in 1954. Wonder’s natural musical talent appeared prior to the move and this greatly emerged after joining a local church choir. He sang with the choir while learning how to play the harmonica, drums, and the piano by nine-years-old.[3]

Early Music Career

In 1961, Stevie Wonder performed for the children of Ronnie White, singer for the Motown group the Miracles. White introduced Wonder to Motown’s Berry Gordon who signed Stevland Morris immediately. Gordon paired him with Clarence Paul, the songwriter and producer, and gave him the name Little Stevie Wonder.

Paul and Wonder collaborated effectively and in 1962, Wonder released his first albums. The first, A Tribute to Uncle Ray, features Wonder covering songs originally performed by Ray Charles, one of Wonder’s biggest heroes. The second, The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie, focused more on his instrumental talents to create an orchestral jazz album using the harmonica, the piano, and many different percussion instruments.

Wonder’s first two albums did not sell well. His third album released in 1963, The 12 Year Old Genius, quickly gained recognition.[4] The single “Fingertips, Pt. 2,” an extension of the original harmonica instrumentals featuring on his second album, topped the R&B and pop charts. The 12 Year Old Genius was the first #1 LP to come from Motown.[5]

Growing Up

Stevie Wonder matured and his voice began to change. He paused his singing career and enrolled at the Michigan School for the Blind to study classical piano. In 1964, he changed his name from Little Stevie Wonder to just Stevie Wonder. He also co-wrote and released the catchy “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” the same year. It smashed the charts, rising to #1 immediately on both the Top Five and R&B lists.

In 1966, Wonder began incorporating social activism into his work. He covered “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan as well as “A Place in the Sun.” Motown still controlled the majority of his song choices and they restricted his choice of material and influence. Wonder continued to co-write many of his hit songs, including “Hey Love,” “I Was Made to Love Her,” and “For Once in My Life.”

The 1968 album entitled For Once in My Life showcased Wonder’s songwriting and producing talents, even at 18-years-old. “My Cherie Amour” rocked the R&B and Pop charts in 1969, another song he co-wrote and co-produced. He finally received credit as a coproducer in 1970 on the Signed, Sealed, & Delivered album and for writing the song lending its name to the album title, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours.”[6]


Professional Musician, Producer, and Songwriter

From 1970 on, Stevie Wonder maintained control over the production of his music. He produced, arranged, and even played almost all of the instruments in his songs with help from his first wife.[7]

Stevie Wonder successfully learned how to make and produce a studio album before his 21st birthday.

Stevie Wonder eventually produced nine children with five different women with the last one born in 2014.[8] In 1971, Wonder renegotiated his Motown contract to make him the first artist under the Motown label with complete control over all artistic aspects of his music. He also received money for what he earned as a minor with Motown. Wonder made over $30 million as a minor, but Motown only provided him $1 million.

Wonder maintained his catchy, Motown sound, but allowed his subject matter to breach the divide between entertainment and raising awareness. His songs addressed issues like political disenfranchisement and the dangers of ghetto life. He also experimented with different melodies and combinations of different musical genres such as Latin, African, jazz, rock and roll, and gospel. He incorporated synthesizer with the variety of instruments he could play along with funk to create the Stevie Wonder sound.[9]

Stevie Wonder released many albums, but none so large or famous as Songs in the Key of Life from 1976. The humongous set contained 2 LPs and 1 EP and received worldwide critical acclaim. He released seven more albums between 1979 and 1995, including Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through “The Secret Life of Plants,” Hotter than July, The Woman in Red, In Square Circle, Characters, Jungle Fever, Conversation Peace, and A Time to Love.[10]


Modern Career and Awards

Stevie Wonder released his album A Time to Love in 2005, his first in over a decade. It featured collaborations with India Arie, En Vogue, Prince, Paul McCartney, and Wonder’s own daughter, Aisha Morris. Wonder won a Grammy for the album in February 2006. He performed at several major events in 2005, including Super Bowl XL.

Wonder starred as an American Idol mentor in 2006. The following year, he toured for the first time in 10 years. In 2008, Wonder performed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention and his song, Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours, became the unofficial anthem for U.S. President Barack Obama’s campaign. Wonder also performed at President Obama’s Inaugural Celebration.[11]

President Obama and the Library of Congress honored Stevie Wonder with the Gershwin Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2008. He won 25 Grammy Awards throughout his musical career, including the 1996 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, along with an Academy Award in 1984. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted him in 1989 and he became the youngest person to receive the Kennedy Center Honors in 1999.

In 2002, the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame inducted Stevie Wonder and he won the 2004 Johnny Mercer Award for his contributions to music. The Library of Congress included the 1976 album entitled Songs in the Key of Life in the National Recording Registry in 2005 to preserve the tracks that are "culturally, historically or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States."[12] The United Nations named him one of ten new Messengers of Peace in December 2009, for his humanitarian advocacy against apartheid, drunk driving, and raising money for AIDS awareness, the mentally disabled, the homeless, and the blind.[13][14]

References

Bibliography

Huey, S. (2017). Stevie Wonder | Biography & History. All Music.[4]


Kreps, D. (2017). Stevie Wonder Bio. Rolling Stone.[5]

Footnotes

  1. Huey, 2017
  2. Kreps, 2017
  3. Huey, 2017
  4. Huey, 2017
  5. Kreps, 2017
  6. Huey, 2017
  7. Kreps, 2017
  8. Marquina, S. (2014, December 17). Stevie Wonder, 64, Welcomes Ninth Child, a Baby Girl Named Nia! US Magazine.[1]
  9. Kreps, 2017
  10. Huey, 2017
  11. Kreps, 2017
  12. Library of Congress. (2009). Stevie Wonder - Gershwin Prize. Gershwin Prize Honorees.[2]
  13. Garten, M. (2009, December 1). Singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder designated UN Messenger of Peace. UN News Center.[3]
  14. Kreps, 2017

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