Stevie Wonder - Biography
Stevie Wonder (real name:
Steveland Hardaway Judkins (he later changed his last name to
Morris, which was his mother's married name), born on May 13,
1950 in Saginaw, Michigan) is an African American singer,
songwriter, producer, musician, humanitarian and social activist.
Blind nearly from birth, Wonder became one of the most successful
and well-known artists on the Motown label, with nine #1 hits to his
name. He has recorded several critically acclaimed albums and hit
singles, and writing and producing songs for many of his labelmates
and outside artists as well. A multi-instrumentalist, Wonder plays
the drums, guitar, synthesizers, congas, and most famously the
piano, harmonica and the keyboard.
Artist career history
Steveland Judkins was born
prematurely, and became blind after being exposed to excessive
oxygen levels in his incubator. He learned to play a number of
instruments, most notably the piano, congas, and harmonica, at an
early age, and was proclaimed a child prodigy. In 1962, at the age
of eleven, he was signed by Berry Gordy to the Motown label as
Little Stevie Wonder.
Little Stevie Wonder's first major
hit came in 1963 with "Fingertips (Pt. 2)", a live recording from a
Motortown Revue performance. The song, featuring Wonder on vocals,
congas, and harmonica, was a #1 hit on the US pop charts and
launched him into the public consciousness. Dropping the "Little"
from his moniker, 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
which was one of the first songs to reflect Wonder's social
consciousness. He also began to work in the Motown songwriting
department, composing songs both for himself and his labelmates.
By 1970, Wonder had scored more
major hits, including "My Cherie Amour" and "Signed, Sealed,
Delivered (I'm Yours)". Besides being one of the first songs on
which Wonder serves as both songwriter and producer, "Signed,
Sealed, Delivered" is one of the main showcases for his backup group Wonderlove, a trio which included at various times Minnie
Riperton, Deniece Williams, Lynda Laurence, and Syreeta Wright, whom
Wonder married on September 14, 1970. Wonder and Wright divorced
eighteen months later, but continued to collaborate on musical
Stevie Wonder, along with Marvin
Gaye, was one of the few Motown stars to contest the label's
factory-like operation methods: artists, songwriters, and producers
were usually kept in specialized collectives with little or no
overlap, and artists had no creative control. After a number of
arguments with Berry Gordy over allowing Wonder to have his own
creative control, Wonder allowed his Motown contract to expire, and
left the label on his twenty-first birthday in 1971. His final album
before his departure was Where I'm Coming From, which Gordy
had strongly fought against releasing.
He independently recorded and
released 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, and
Wonder returned to Motown in 1972 with Music of My Mind, an
album which is considered a classic of the era. Unlike most previous
artist LPs on Motown, which usually consisted of a collection
singles, b-sides, and covers, Music of My Mind was an actual
LP, full-length artistic statement. The critical and commercial
successes Talking Book and Innervisions continued
Wonder's critical and popular acclaim, addressing more and more
political issues as his music progressed. Talking Book
featured the #1 pop and R&B hit "Superstition", which is one of the
most distinctive examples of the sound of the clavinet. (Wonder
performed "Superstition" on the children's show Sesame Street in
1973.) Wonder's artistic growth continued on Fulfillingness'
First Finale (1974) and his magnum opus, Songs in the Key of
Wonder's next album was a
soundtrack album for the film Journey Through the Secret Life of
Plants. The album was panned at the time of its release but has
come to be regarded as a classic album. Hotter Than July
(1980) become Wonder's first platinum selling album, and its single
"Happy Birthday" was a successful vehicle for his campaign to
establish Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday as a national holiday.
The album also included "Master Blaster (Jammin')", his tribute to
Bob Marley, and the sentimental ballad, "Lately", which was later
covered by '90s R&B act Jodeci. In 1982, Wonder released an
introspective of his '70s work with Original Musiquarium and
included three more hit singles in his catalogue, including the
ten-minute funk classic "Do I Do" (which included legendary jazz
trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie), "That Girl" (one of the year's biggest
singles to chart on the R&B side) and "Ribbon in the Sky", one of
his many classic compositions.
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 the US,
and is Motown's biggest-selling single ever in the United Kingdom.
It was placed 13th in the all-time list of best-selling singles in
the UK issued in 2002. The following year's In Square Circle
featured the #1 pop hit "Part-Time Lover".
After 1987's Characters LP,
Wonder continued to release new material, albeit at a slower pace.
He recorded a soundtrack album for Spike Lee's film Jungle Fever
in 1991, and released both Conversation Peace and the live
album Natural Wonder during the same decade. In December
1999, Wonder announced that he was interested in pursuing an
intraocular retinal prosthesis to partially restore his sight.
Producer and songwriter
Besides creating his own material,
Stevie Wonder has written and produced a number of songs for other
artists. Among his most significant compositions or co-compositions
are "The Tears of a Clown" by
Smokey Robinson &
The Miracles, "It's
a Shame" by The Spinners, and "You Are My Heaven" by Roberta Flack &
Donny Hathaway. He has also collaborated with Quincy Jones, Barbara
Streisand, B.B. King, The Supremes, Michael Jackson, The
Temptations, Dionne Warwick, Julio Iglesias, and former Musical
Youth lead singer Dennis Seaton.
Stevie Wonder's success as a
multi-instrumentalist and socially conscious musical performer was
significantly influential to both R&B and pop music. Among the
musicians and performers who list Wonder as one of their major
influences are India.Arie, Musiq Soulchild, Alicia Keys,
Legend, and the members of Jodeci and Dru Hill.
Awards and recognition
Stevie has received 22 Grammy
Awards over the course of his career. In 1989, Wonder was inducted
to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He is also an inductee to the
Songwriter's Hall of Fame. Wonder also received Kennedy Center
Honors in 1999, and was awarded the highest honor to be received at
the Billboard Music Award for the Century Award in 2004.
In accepting an honorary doctor of
music degree at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1996,
Wonder said: "Many years ago, but not so long ago, there were those
who said, 'Well, you have three strikes against you: You're Black,
you're blind and you're poor.' But God said to me, 'I will make you
rich in the spirit of inspiration, to inspire others as well as
create music to encourage the world to a place of oneness and hope
and positivity.' I believed Him and not them."
Wonder's Official Website
Music Bios A-Z
Free Music Tools
Artists & Bands Gallery