Stevie Wonder was born in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1950 on May 13th. Owing to his being 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. 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 surname 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.
Upon discovery, Ronnie White of The Miracles gives credit to his brother Gerald White for persistently nagging him to come to his friend’s house in 1961 to check out Stevie Wonder. White brought Wonder and his mother to Motown. Impressed by the young musician, Motown CEO Berry Gordy signed Wonder to Motown’s Tamla label with the name Little Stevie Wonder.Before signing, producer Clarence Paul gave Wonder his trademark name after stating “we can’t keep calling him the eighth wonder of the world”. He then recorded the regional Detroit single, “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, to little success.
By 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 Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts, making him the youngest artist to top the former in its history and launching him into the public consciousness.
In 1964, Stevie Wonder made his film debut in Muscle Beach Party as himself, credited as “Little Stevie Wonder”. He returned in the sequel released five months later, Bikini Beach. He performed on-screen in both films, singing “Happy Street,” and “Happy Feelin’ (Dance and Shout),” respectively.
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 “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 “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 songwriter and former Motown secretary. Wright and Wonder co-wrote the songs on the next album, Where I’m Coming From, which did not succeed in the charts. Reaching his twenty-first birthday on May 13, 1971, he allowed his Motown contract to expire.
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. Unlike most previous albums on Motown, which usually consisted of a collection of singles, B-sides and covers, Music of My Mind was a full-length artistic statement with songs flowing together thematically.
Released in late 1972, Talking Book featured the No. 1 hit “Superstition”,which is one of the most distinctive and famous examples of the sound of the Hohner clavinet keyboard.Talking Book also featured “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”, which also peaked at No. 1. During the same time as the album’s release, Stevie Wonder began touring with the Rolling Stones to alleviate the negative effects from pigeon-holing as a result of being an R&B artist in America.
In 1983, Wonder scheduled an album to be entitled “People Work, Human Play.” The album never surfaced and instead 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. It went on to win an Academy Award for “Best Song” in 1985. The album also featured a guest appearance by Dionne Warwick, singing the duet “It’s You” with Stevie and a few songs of her own. The following year’s In Square Circle featured the #1 pop hit “Part-Time Lover”. The album also has a Top 10 Hit with “Go Home.” It also featured the ballad “Overjoyed” which was originally written for Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, but didn’t make the album. He performed “Overjoyed” on Saturday Night Live when he was the host. He was also featured in Chaka Khan‘s cover of Prince’s “I Feel For You”, alongside Melle Mel, playing his signature harmonica. In roughly the same period he was also featured on harmonica on Eurythmics’ single, “There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart)” and Elton John‘s “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”.
Wonder’s first new album in ten years, A Time to Love, was released on October 18, 2005, after having been pushed back from first a May, and then a June release. The album was released electronically on September 27, 2005, exclusively on Apple’s iTunes Music Store. The first single, “So What the Fuss”, was released in April. A second single, “From the Bottom of My Heart” was a hit on adult-contemporary R&B radio. The album also featured a duet with India.Arie on the title track “A Time to Love”.
A prominent figure in popular music during the latter half of the 20th century, Wonder has recorded more than thirty U.S. top ten hits and won twenty-two Grammy Awards(the most ever won by a solo artist) as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also won an Academy Award for Best Song, and been inducted into both the Rock and Roll and Songwriters halls of fame. He has also been awarded the Polar Music Prize. American music magazine Rolling Stone named him the ninth greatest singer of all time. In June 2009 he became the fourth artist to receive the Montreal Jazz Festival Spirit Award. Stevie Wonder was voted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends online Hall of Fame in 2005. His hit recording of “Superstition” was selected as a Legendary Michigan Song in 2010.
He has ten U.S. number-one hits on the pop charts as well as 20 R&B number one hits, and album sales totaling more than 100 million units. Wonder has recorded several critically acclaimed albums and hit singles, and writes and produces songs for many of his label mates and outside artists as well. Wonder plays the piano, synthesizer, harmonica, congas, drums, bass guitar, bongos, organ, melodica, and clavinet. In his childhood, he was best known for his harmonica work, but today he is better known for his keyboard skills and vocal ability. 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.
Happy Birthday Stevie!