Stevie Wonder Part One
If I was to tell you that a blind eleven year old boy plays a harmonica, write songs, sings, and plays a piano, you might believe me, well as Little Stevie (that is what he was called), is that child. In Stevie Wonder Part One, I’ll be typing that gifted child, and what he accomplished in his lifetime.
Stevland Hardaway Morris (né Judkins; born May 13, 1950), better known by his stage name Stevie Wonder, is an American singer, songwriter, musician and record producer. A prominent figure in popular music, he is one of the most successful musicians of the 20th century. Wonder‘s “classic period“, between 1972 and 1977, is noted for his funky keyboard style, personal control of production, and series of songs integrated with one another to make a concept album.
Wonder performing in August 1973
Stevland Hardaway Judkins
May 13, 1950 (age 69).
Saginaw, Michigan, U.S.
Little Stevie Wonder.
Singer songwriter musician record producer multi-instrumentalist.
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
( m. 1970; div. 1972).
( m. 2001; div. 2012).
Tomeeka Bracy (m. 2017).
• Soul pop R&B funk jazz.
• Vocals keyboards harmonica drums harpejji.
• Tamla Motown.
• Elton John Michael Jackson Paul McCartney Edwin Birdsong.
Blind since shortly after his birth, Wonder was a child prodigy known as Little Stevie Wonder leading him to sign with Motown‘s Tamla label at the age of 11. In 1963, the single “Fingertips“ was a No. 1 hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 whenWonder was aged 13, making him the youngest artist ever to top the chart. Wonder started his “classic period“ with Music of My Mind and Talking Book (both 1972), the latter of which featured the No. 1 hit “Superstition“. It is one of the most distinctive and famous examples of the sound of the Hohner Clavinet keyboard. Inner visions (1973) won Album of the Year at the 16th Grammy Awards. Fulfillingness‘ First Finale (1974) also won Album of the Year at the 17th Annual Grammy Awards. Songs in the Key of Life (1976) won Album of the Year at the 19th Annual Grammy Awards, making Wonder, along with Frank Sinatra, the most Album of the Year‘s winner with three. He is also the only artist to have won the award with three consecutive album releases. Wonder‘s 1970s albums are regarded as very influential; the Rolling Stone Record Guide said they “pioneered stylistic approaches that helped to determine the shape of pop music for the next decade“.
Wonder has sold over 100 million records worldwide, which placed him among the best-selling music artists of all time. He has won 25 Grammy Awards, making him one of the most awarded artists of all time. He was the first Motown artist and second African-American musician to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song, for the 1984 film The Woman in Red. Wonder was inducted into the Rock andRock Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame, and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He 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.
Wonder was born Stevland Hardaway Judkins in Saginaw, Michigan, on May 13, 1950, the third of six children born to Calvin Judkins and songwriter Lula Mae Hardaway. He was born six weeks premature which, along with the oxygen-rich atmosphere in the hospital incubator, resulted in retinopathy of prematurity, a condition in which the growth of the eyes is aborted and causes the retinas to detach, so he became blind.
When Wonder was four, his mother divorced his father and moved with her children to Detroit, Michigan, where Wonder sang as a child in a choir at the Whitestone Baptist Church. She changed her name back to Lula Hardaway and later changed her son‘s surname to Morris, partly because of relatives. Wonder has retained Morris as his legal surname. He began playing instruments at an early age, including piano, harmonica, and drums. He formed a singing partnership with a friend; calling themselves Stevie and John, they played on street corners and occasionally at parties and dances.
As a child, Wonder attended Fitzgerald Elementary School. After his first album was released, he enrolled in Michigan School for the Blind.
1961— 1969: Sixties singles.
Wonder rehearsing for a performance on Dutch TV in 1967.
In 1961, when aged 11, Wonder sang his own composition, “Lonely Boy“, to Ronnie White of the Miracles; White then took Wonder and his mother to an audition at Motown, where CEO Berry Gordy signed Wonder to Motown‘s Tamla label. Before signing, producer Clarence Paul gave him the name Little Stevie Wonder. Because of Wonder‘s age, the label drew up a rolling five-year contract in which royalties would be held in trust until Wonder was 21. He and his mother would be paid a weekly stipend to cover their expenses: Wonder received$2.50 (equivalent to $20.96 in 2018) per week, and a private tutor was provided for when Wonder was on tour.
Wonder was put in the care of producer and songwriter Clarence Paul, and for a year they worked together on two albums. Tribute to Uncle Ray was recorded first, when Wonder was still 11 years old. Mainly covers of Ray Charles‘s songs, the album included a Wonder and Paul composition, “Sunset“. The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie was recorded next, an instrumental album consisting mainly of Paul‘s compositions, two of which, “Wondering“ and “Session Number 112“, were co-written with Wonder. Feeling Wonder was now ready, a song, “Mother Thank You“, was recorded for release as a single, but then pulled and replaced by the Berry Gordy song “I Call It Pretty Music, But the Old People Call It the Blues“ as his début single; released summer 1962, it almost broke into the Billboard 100, spending one week of August at 101 before dropping out of sight. Two follow-up singles, “Little Water Boy“ and “Contract on Love“, both had no success, and the two albums, released in reverse order of recording— The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie in September 1962 and Tribute to Uncle Ray in October 1962— also met with little success.
At the end of 1962, when Wonder was 12 years old, he joined the Motortown Revue, touring the “Chitlin‘ Circuit“ of theaters across America that accepted black artists. At the Regal Theater, Chicago, his 20-minute performance was recorded and released in May 1963 as the album Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius. A single, “Fingertips“, from the album was also released in May, and became a major hit. The song, featuring a confident and enthusiastic Wonder returning for a spontaneous encore that catches out the replacement bass player, who is heard to call out “What key? What key?“, was a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 when Wonder was aged 13, making him the youngest artist ever to top the chart. The single was simultaneously No. 1 on the R&B chart, the first time that had occurred. His next few recordings, however, were not successful; his voice was changing as he got older, and some Motown executives were considering cancelling his recording contract. During 1964, Wonder appeared in two films as himself, Muscle Beach Party and Bikini Beach, but these were not successful either. Sylvia Moy persuaded label owner Berry Gordy to give Wonder another chance.
Most of these songs hit the charts in a big way before Stevie turned twenty-one, in 1971, Because he‘s grown up fast, the love lyrics are less teen-specific than a lot of early Smokey, say, but the music is pure puberty. Stevie‘s rockers a real ways one step ahead of themselves— their gawky groove is so disorienting it makes you pay attention, like a voice that‘s perpetually changing. The ballads conceive coming of age more conventionally, and less felicitously. But he sure covered Tony Bennett better than the Supremes or the Tempts could have, now didn’t he?
— Review of Stevie Wonder‘s Greatest Hits Vol. 2 in Christgau‘s Record Guide:Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981)
Dropping the “Little“ from his name, Moy and Wonder worked together to create the hit “Uptight (Everything‘s Alright)“, and Wonder went on to have a number of other hits during the mid-1960s, including “With a Child‘s Heart“, and “Blowin‘ in the Wind“, a Bob Dylan cover, 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 “The Tears of a Clown“, a No. 1 hit for Smokey Robinson and the Miracles (it was first released in 1967, mostly unnoticed as the last track of their Make It Happen LP, but eventually became a major success when re-released as a single in 1970, which prompted Robinson to reconsider his intention of leaving the group).
In 1968 he recorded an album of instrumental soul/jazz tracks, mostly harmonica solos, under the 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 US 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“. A number of Wonder‘s early hits, including“My Cherie Amour“, “I Was Made to Love Her“, and “Uptight (Everything‘s Alright)“,were co-written with Henry Cosby. The hit single “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I‘m Yours“ was his first ever self-produced song.