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Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder, born Stevland Hardaway Judkins, was born on May 13, 1950 in Saginaw, Michigan, United States. His name was later changed to Stevland Hardaway Morris. In Stevie Wonder's mother's authorized biography, Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder's Mother (2002, Simon and Schuster) it states that his surname was legally changed to Morris when he signed with Motown in 1961.

The product of a premature birth, the blood vessels at the back of his eyes had not yet reached the front, and an aborted growth spurt caused the retinas to detach. The medical term for this condition is known as Retinopathy of prematurity, or "ROP", and while it may have been exacerbated by the oxygen pumped into his incubator, this treatment was not the primary cause of his blindness.

When Wonder was 4, his mother left his father and moved herself and her children to Detroit, Michigan. Wonder took up piano at age 7, and had mastered it by age 9. During his early childhood he was active in his church choir. He also taught himself to play the harmonica and the drums, and had mastered both by age ten. Wonder also learned to play the bass during his early years.

Musical Career and Achievements

Early career, 1961–1971:

  • In 1961, at the age of eleven, Wonder was introduced to Ronnie White of the popular Motown act The Miracles. White brought Morris and his mother to Motown Records. Impressed by the young musician, Motown CEO Berry Gordy signed Morris to Motown's Tamla label with the name Little Stevie Wonder. He then recorded the minor hit "I Call It Pretty Music, But The Old People Call It The Blues".

  • By age thirteen, 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."

    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.

  • 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 newly-wed 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 21st birthday on 21 May 1971, he allowed his Motown contract to expire.[8]

  • 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 on-going negotiations with Gordy about creative autonomy.

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, and Wonder returned to Motown in March 1972 with Music of My Mind, an album which is considered a classic of the era.

  • October 1972's album Talking Book featured the #1 pop and R&B musical hit "Superstition", which is one of the most distinctive and famous examples of the sound of the Höhner clavinet keyboard.

  • 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".

  • In an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, shortly after the release of Innervisions, Wonder expressed a feeling that someone was going to kill or seriously injure him. Then on August 6, 1973, Wonder was in a serious automobile accident while on tour, when a log from a truck went through the windshield and struck him 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 eventually recovered all of his musical faculties, and re-appeared in concert at Madison Square Garden in March 1974.

  • On October 5, 1975 Wonder performed the historical "Wonder Dream Concert" in Kingston, Jamaica, a Jamaican Institute for the Blind benefit concert.

  • By 1975, in his 25th year, Stevie Wonder had won two consecutive Grammy Awards: in 1974 for Innervisions and in 1975 for Fulfillingness' First Finale. The following year, singer songwriter Paul Simon won the Grammy for Album of the Year for Still Crazy After All These Years. In his acceptance speech, Simon jokingly thanked Stevie Wonder for not releasing an album that year. Simon's joke proved prophetic.

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Commercial period, 1979–1990:

It was in Wonder's next phase that he began to commercially reap the rewards of his legendary classic period. The '80s saw Wonder scoring his biggest hits and reaching an unprecedented level of fame evidenced by increased album sales, charity participation, high-profile collaborations, political impact, and television appearances.

This period had a muted beginning, for when Wonder did return, it was with the soundtrack album Journey through the Secret Life of Plants (1979), featured in the film The Secret Life of Plants.

  • Hotter than July (1980) became Wonder's first platinum-selling single album.

  • In 1982, Wonder released a retrospective of his '70s work with Stevie Wonder's Original Musiquarium.

  • In 1983, Wonder performed the song "Stay Gold", the theme to Francis Ford Coppola's film adaptation of S.E. Hinton's novel The Outsiders.

  • 1984 saw the release of Wonder's soundtrack album for The Woman in Red. The lead single, "I Just Called to Say I Love You", was a #1 pop and R&B hit in both the United States and the United Kingdom, where it was placed 13th in the list of best-selling singles in the UK published in 2002.

  • By 1985, Stevie Wonder was an American icon, the subject of good-humored jokes about blindness and affectionately impersonated by Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live.

  • In 1986, Stevie Wonder appeared on The Cosby Show as himself in the episode "A Touch of Wonder".

  • In 1987, Wonder appeared on Michael Jackson's Bad album on the duet "Just Good Friends".

Later career, 1991–present:

  • In 1996, Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life was selected as a documentary subject for the Classic Albums documentary series.

  • In 1997, Wonder collaborated with Babyface for an emotionally-charged song about spousal abuse (domestic violence) called "How Come, How Long" which was nominated for an award.

  • In December 1999, Wonder announced that he was interested in pursuing an intraocular retinal prosthesis to partially restore his sight.

  • In March 2002, Wonder performed at the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Paralympics in Salt Lake City.

  • On July 2, 2005, Wonder performed in the USA part of the "Live 8" series of concerts in Philadelphia.

  • Wonder's first new album in ten years, A Time to Love, was released on October 18, 2005.

Wonder's songs are renowned for being quite difficult to sing. He has a very developed sense of harmony and uses many extended chords utilizing tensions such as 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, b5s, etc. in his compositions. Many of his melodies make abrupt, unpredictable changes. Many of his vocal melodies are also melismatic, meaning that a syllable is sung over several notes.

Personal Life

Wonder has seven children from several relationships and two marriages: in 1970, to deceased Motown singer Syreeta Wright (the marriage ended in divorce in 1972) and, since 2001, to fashion designer Kai Milla Morris.

His daughter, Aisha Morris, was the inspiration for his hit single "Isn't She Lovely." Aisha Morris is a singer who has toured with her father and accompanied him on recordings, including his 2005 album, A Time 2 Love. Wonder has two sons with Kai Milla Morris; the older is named Kailand and he occasionally performs as a drummer on stage with his father. The younger son, Mandla Kadjay Carl Steveland Morris, was born May 13, 2005, his father's 55th birthday.

In May 2006, Wonder's mother died in Los Angeles, California, at the age of 76. During his September 8, 2008 UK concert in Birmingham he spoke of his decision to begin touring again following his loss. "I want to take all the pain that I feel and celebrate and turn it around".

Wonder is an activist for civil rights and endorsed 2008 United States Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama, who would later be elected 44th President of the United States, the first African American to do so. Apparently, the respect is more than mutual, as Obama responded to a Rolling Stone interview question that asked him who his musical heroes are by saying: "If I had one, it would have to be Stevie Wonder. When I was just at that point where you start getting involved in music, Stevie Wonder had that run with Music of My Mind, Talking Book, Fulfillingness' First Finale and Innervisions, and then Songs in the Key of Life. Those are as brilliant a set of five albums as we've ever seen.

Wonder's success as a socially conscious musical performer influenced popular music.

Among the musicians and performers who list Wonder as one of their major influences are Michael Jackson, Kelis, Janet Jackson, Usher, Dave Matthews, Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross,Tim Foreman, Glen Lewis, Jermaine Jackson, Carrie Underwood, Gloria Estefan, Jonas Brothers, Alicia Keys, Tori Amos, Avia, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Cat Stevens, The Dirtbombs, Kanye West, George Michael, Nik Kershaw, Anthony Kiedis (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Sting, John Ondrasik (Five For Fighting), India.Arie, Musiq Soulchild, John Legend, Jason Kay, (Jamiroquai), Donell Jones, Brandy, Beyoncé Knowles, John Farnham, Jon Gibson, Aaliyah, Ashanti, Babyface, Craig David, Hikaru Utada, Wang Leehom, Shogo Hamada, Shunsuke Kuroda (from the J-pop group Kobukuro), Jim Underwood, and the members of Jodeci, the Neptunes, Spitting Blood, Tayo Oke(Oklet)a Nigerian, Dru Hill, Maroon 5, and Thunder.

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Written from information on wikipedia.org
Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and www.sxc.hu

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