Stevie Wonder Biography

A biography of one of R&B's biggest forces

R&B legend Stevie Wonder
R&B legend Stevie Wonder. Google Images/nabef.org

Stevie Wonder was born Steveland Hardaway Judkins on May 13, 1950 in Saginaw, Mich. He changed his name to Steveland Morris when his mother married.

Wonder was born prematurely. Upon his birth he was put on an oxygen treatment in an incubator. This led to "retinopathy of prematurity," a visual condition that occurs in infants receiving an excess of oxygen due to intensive neonatal care, and it is likely what caused his blindness.

He was musically gifted from an early age. His family relocated to Detroit in 1954 where he took up singing in his church's choir. By the time he was 9 he taught himself how to play the piano, drums and harmonica. It 1961, at the ripe age of 11, he was discovered by Ronnie White of the Motown group the Miracles. White arranged an audition with Berry Gordy at Motown Records, who signed the young musical savant immediately and renamed him Little Stevie Wonder.

In 1962 he released his first album, Tribute to Uncle Ray, which features covers on Ray Charles songs, and The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie, which put the boy's musical chops front and center. Neither album performed well, but 1963's live album, The 12 Year Old Genius, produced the chart-topper "Fingertips, Pt. 2" and was enough to get him on the map.

Reinvention and Renaissance

Then, puberty. Wonder's voice was changing and his recording career was briefly put on hold.

He began studying classical piano at the Michigan School for the Blind, dropped "Little" from his stage name, and reemerged to the spotlight in 1965 with "Uptight (Everything's Alright)," another No. 1 hit.

Now known as "Stevie Wonder," the public began to view him as a more mature artist. He cowrote several hits that landed in the R&B Top Ten, including "Hey Love" and "For Once in My Life." 1968's For Once in My Life was a smash hit that made him a superstar.

Keep in mind Wonder was just 18 years old.

He negotiated a new contract with Motown and assumed complete control over his career. In the 1970s Wonder experienced a personal renaissance. Talking Book (1972), Innervisions (1973), Fulfillingness' First Finale (1974) and Songs in the Key of Life (1976) produced some of Wonder's most iconic songs: "Boogie on a Reggae Woman," "Living in the City" and "Isn't She Lovely." In the '70s alone, Wonder had acquired 15 Grammy Awards.

1980s and Beyond

The '80s might not have been nearly successful for Wonder, but he continued to be a lofty influence in the music industry. He produced the No. 1 single "I Just Called to Say I Love You" for the film "The Woman in Red." It won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Wonder has never been one to shy away from tackling social issues in his work. In 1982 he and Paul McCartney produced the No. 1 hit "Ebony and Ivory." That same decade, Wonder successfully spearheaded a campaign to make Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a national holiday.

Wonder's music production has slowed significantly in recent years. After a ten year hiatus, he released A Time to Love in 2005. In 2013 he announced he was working on new material and has plans to release to new albums, When the World Began and Ten Billion Hearts, though neither has been issued yet.

He continues to tour and perform live.

Legacy

Stevie Wonder is one of the most creative, beloved performers to emerge during the 20th century. Over the course of his triumphant career, Wonder has amassed 25 Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996, and more than 30 Top Ten hits. He has sold more than 100 million albums, making him one of the best-selling artists of all time.

He is a member of the Songwriters and Rock and Roll halls of fame. Wonder, who is known as a prominent social activist, has been awarded several awards for his humanitarian efforts, including the National Civil Rights Museum's Lifetime Achievement Award and a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2014. He is also a United Nations Messenger of Peace.

 

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