Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder, was born Stevland Hardaway Morris in 1950. He was signed to Motown’s Tamla label at the age of 11 after he impressed Ronnie White of the ‘Miracles’ and was invited to audition. Because of his age and talent he was given the name Little Stevie Wonder and he recorded his first album ‘The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie’ and the follow up album ‘Tribute to Uncle Ray’ the same year. Both albums consisted of covers by other artists and were released in 1962 but they failed to generate a hit single for Motown.

In 1962 Stevie joined Motortown Revue, Motown’s touring group of performers. They would tour around the “Chitlin’ Circuit”: eastern, southern and upper mid-west parts of the United States where African American musicians were allowed to perform. A live recording of Stevie Wonder performing Clarence Paul and Henry Cosby’s ‘Fingertips’ at one of these Motortown shows led to his first number one single. The success of the record led to his first live album “Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius” reaching number one in the charts, making him at the time the youngest person to ever do so.
In 1963 he would drop the “little” from his name and release the album ‘With A Song in My Heart’. As he hit his mid-teens his voice started to change and his records became less and less popular, this caused the record label to consider dropping him. However, they decided to give him another chance and in 1966 Stevie released the single ‘Uptight (Everything’s alright) and was Stevie’s first hit single that he helped to write.

In 1970 Wonder married Syreeta Wright, a songwriter and former secretary for Motown. They collaborated together on the album ‘Where I’m Coming From.’ Before this album, Wonder was feeling limited creatively as Motown ultimately had control over the contents of his albums but on turning 21, a clause in his contract meant this could be void. Motown asked Wonder to stay with the label but he refused and asked for it to be voided, he used this to force Motown into giving him creative control on his work, they agreed and he took advantage of this creative freedom on ‘Where I’m Coming From.’

Taking this freedom further in 1972 he released ‘Music of My Mind’. Unlike most Motown records which consisted of B-sides and covers, Music of My Mind was all original material based around a theme of social and political issues. During the summer Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright divorced amicably. In October the same year, Wonder released ‘Talking Book’ which many consider being the start of his “Classic Period.” Both singles ‘Superstition’ and ‘You Are the Sunshine of My Life’ reached number one in the charts and both received Grammy Award nominations. ‘You Are the Sunshine of My Life’ won for ‘Best Male Pop Vocal Performance’, it was also nominated for ‘Record of the Year’ and ‘Song of the Year.’ At the time of their release Wonder had been touring which the Rolling Stones, this as well as an appearance on the TV show ‘Sesame Street’ is credited towards the single’s success.

In 1973 he released the album ‘Innervisions’, three days after the release Wonder was involved in a car accident which left him in a coma for four days. This didn’t keep him away from music as in 1974 he would return with ‘Fulfillingness’ First Finale, which was his first album reach number one in Billboard’s pop album chart. The album and its second single ‘Boogie on Reggae Woman’ received three Grammys between them.

Then came in 1976 ‘Songs in the Key of Life’, what many consider to be the best Stevie Wonder and one of the greatest records of all time. Before this Wonder’s contract was about to run out and he had been contemplating quitting the music industry and moving to Ghana, a farewell concert was even being considered. He eventually decided against retiring and signed another contract with Motown for $37 million, the largest deal for an artist at that time. ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ covered a wide variety of themes and styles, but all were about things that happened in his life, the single ‘Isn’t she lovely?’ for example was written about his newborn daughter Aisha, while ‘Sir Duke’ was about jazz-musician Duke Ellington who inspired Wonder. The album received overwhelmingly positive reviews. It debuted in the Billboard Pop Album charts at number one and stayed there for 13 weeks, sold over 10 million copies and won a Grammy for ‘Album of the Year.’

Throughout the 1980s Wonder would continue this success. In 1980 Wonder got his first platinum-selling record, ‘Hotter Than July’, he sang on Paul McCartney’s 1982 single ‘Ebony and Ivory’ and in 1984 he would produce the soundtrack for the film ‘The Woman in Red’. The soundtrack included the hit-single ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You.’ The single is Wonder’s only solo UK number one, it became Motown’s biggest-selling single in the UK and won both a Golden Globe and Academy Award for ‘Best Original song.’ He would release his own albums such as ‘In Square Circle’ and ‘Characters’ but these albums did not reach the heights of ‘Songs in the Key of Life.’

After ‘Conversation Peace’ in 1995 Wonder would take a 10 year hiatus from writing, he sang at the 1996 Summer Olympics Closing Ceremony in Atlanta. He would make an occasional guest appearance on other people’s records such as Rod Stewart, 98 Degrees and Babyface. In 2005 Wonder released his twenty-third studio album ‘A Time to Love’ which was met with positive reviews and the single ‘From the Bottom of My Heart’ won a Grammy for ‘Best Male Pop vocal Performance.’

Today Stevie Wonder has won 25 Grammy Awards as well as the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award which he was presented with in 1996. In 2015 he toured the United States playing ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ in its entirety and is currently working on new material for two albums. President Barack Obama in 2009 awarded the Gershwin Prize to Wonder for his contributions to popular music.