May 13: Stevie Wonder is 61 years-old today.

Did you know?
Why Stevie Wonder is blind: 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.

Stevie Wonder was born Stevland Hardaway Judkins in Saginaw, Michigan in 1950. 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.

Ronnie White of The Miracles says in 1961, his brother Gerald White, kept pestering him to check out Stevie Wonder. Impressed, he brought Wonder and his mother to Motown Records. Motown CEO Berry Gordy signed Wonder to Motown's Tamla label with the name Little Stevie Wonder.

Stevie’s first record was "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. Neither sold well.

At 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 his career.

In 1964, Stevie Wonder made his film debut in Muscle Beach Party as himself, and credited as "Little Stevie Wonder." He returned in the sequel released five months later, Bikini Beach. He performed on-screen in both films.

Dropping the "Little" from his name, 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 a Bob Dylan cover "Blowin' in the Wind."

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.

Wonder did 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, 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.

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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. Wonder returned to Motown in March 1972 with Music of My Mind. The album was unique. 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 was the beginning of a long collaboration with Tonto's Expanding Head Band (Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil).

Released in late 1972, Talking Book featured the No. 1 hit "Superstition" which featured a Hohner clavinet keyboard. Talking Book also featured "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," which also peaked at No. 1. The two songs won a total of three Grammy Awards.

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. 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.

On August 6, 1973, Wonder was in a serious automobile accident while on tour in North Carolina, that 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. Wonder recovered all of his musical faculties.

The double album-with-extra-EP Songs in the Key of Life, was released in September 1976. It 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.

Two tracks, became #1 Pop/R&B hits "I Wish" and "Sir Duke." "Isn't She Lovely?" was written about his newborn daughter Aisha. "Love's in Need of Love Today" 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's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Wonder was the first Motown artist and second African American musician to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song for his 1984 hit single "I Just Called to Say I Love You" from the movie The Woman in Red.



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