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Stevens, Cat

Cat Stevens

Singer, songwriter

Singer-songwriter Cat Stevens has gone through many changes during the course of his career. Beginning as a British teen idol in the late 1960s, he eventually rose to great heights of popular and critical acclaim as a folk artist in the 1970s. Then, while still enjoying a large following of music fans, Stevens converted to Islam and stopped putting out records to devote himself to his new religion. He took the name Yusuf Islam, and eventually rid himself of all vestiges of his secular career, giving away his guitars and the many gold records he had earned. For many years he operated a small hotel in London and recorded only Islamic-oriented materials when he recorded at all. Finally, under the name Yusuf, he returned to secular music with the album An Other Cup in late 2006.

Stevens was born Stephen Demetre Georgiou to Greek immigrant parents on July 21, 1948, in London, England. Interested in music from an early age, he preferred the stirring songs of his parents' native country as a child, but in his adolescence became more attracted to the rock and roll music his friends enjoyed. By the time Stevens had graduated from secondary school and was attending the Hammersmith College of Art, he was also performing in small clubs in London. He had gathered a fairly large following, and eventually a professional manager became interested in the young man's talent. Shortly afterwards, Stevens's first demo tape garnered him a recording contract with Decca in England.

Decca saw Stevens as a pop artist, and wanted him to record teen-oriented songs. Perhaps because of his youth, the singer-songwriter at first had no trouble complying. His first album, Matthew and Son, was released in 1967, and the title track became a British hit. More successes, including "I Love My Dog" and "The First Cut Is the Deepest," followed, and he toured England, Belgium, and France. But Stevens became dissatisfied with his material and tried to get Decca to record some more mature tunes that he had written. When they refused, he grew more depressed about his career. He later told Mark F. Zeller in Rolling Stone that during this period, "in order to get onstage, I used to have to drink. To get drunk." Stevens also neglected his health in other ways, and in late 1968 had to be hospitalized for three months with tuberculosis.

Different Kind of Sound

By the time Stevens was well enough to leave the hospital, he had decided to drop out of the music scene for a while. He reemerged with a more mature, folk-oriented style, his instrumentation was more spare, and his appearance drastically changed—the clean-shaven teen idol now had long hair and a bushy beard. The album he recorded in 1970, Mona Bone Jakon, received a great deal of critical acclaim and brought Stevens to the attention of music fans in the United States. The follow-up, 1970's Tea for the Tillerman, became his first gold album, and included the classics "Wild World," "Father and Son," and "Miles from Nowhere." His popularity was further increased that year by a live radio concert in Los Angeles, California, which prompted Los Angeles Times critic Robert Hilburn to hail Stevens as "an exceptional singer and artist whose highly distinctive voice has the rare ability to combine the strength, fragility, and sometimes mystery of his highly personal compositions."

Stevens's success continued throughout the 1970s as he racked up gold album after gold album. Teaser and the Firecat (1971) contained three songs that are perhaps his most famous—"Moonshadow," "Morning Has Broken," and "Peace Train." In 1972 Catch Bull at Four yielded the hit "Sitting"; 1974's Buddah and the Chocolate Box brought forth "Oh, Very Young" and a remake of the Sam Cooke smash "Another Saturday Night." But the latter album began a period of slight critical disfavor for Stevens—many reviewers felt his newer albums did not measure up to his earlier work. He was still supported by his fans, however, and his hits during the late 1970s included "Ready," "Two Fine People," and his last big-selling single, "Old School Yard."

But as early as the mid-1970s, forces at work in Stevens's personal life foreshadowed a drastic turnabout. According to Zeller, he nearly drowned while swimming at a California beach. Struggling against the undertow, Stevens made a promise to serve God if his life was spared. He told Zeller: "Immediately, a wave came from behind and pushed me forward. All of a sudden, I was swimming back." Then, shortly afterwards, his older brother gave him a copy of the Koran—the holy scriptures of the Islamic faith—to read. In 1977 Stevens went public with his conversion to Islam and his decision to stop recording secular music; however, A&M, his record company, had enough of his material stored up to release a final album, Back to Earth, in 1978.

A Changed Man

For many years Stevens, or Yusuf Islam, as he now preferred to be called, lived in London and operated a small hotel oriented toward Islamic travelers. He established a group of Muslim schools for children, married, and had five children of his own. It has been reported that his was an arranged marriage, but he has said on his website that he merely brought women to meet his mother and asked her for her opinion on the matter of choosing between them. He used his musical talents to write religious songs for his own children and those who attended his Islamiya Schools.

Beginning in 1995 he began to release some of this material in album form, together with spoken religious lessons; 1995's The Life of the Last Prophet was followed by Prayers of the Last Prophet in 1999, A Is for Allah in 2000, I Look, I See in 2003, and Night of Remembrance: Live at the Royal Albert Hall in 2004. The last-named of these, despite its nostalgic-sounding title, was a performance of religious music that celebrated the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Islamiya Schools.

As Islamic militancy grew in the Middle East, Yusuf Islam found himself the subject of controversy. In 1984 he emphatically denied rumors that he was living in Iran as a follower of the late Ayatollah Khomeini and that he was studying to become an Ayatollah himself. But in 1989 he supported the late Ayatollah's death threats against author Salman Rushdie, whom he considered to have demeaned the Islamic religion with his book The Satanic Verses. He unequivocally condemned the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and devoted many of his efforts to charitable work in predominantly Islamic Bosnia after civil war ended there. In 2004 he was refused admittance to the United States after his name showed up on a terrorism watch list; he later sued and won damages from two British newspapers who had asserted that the United States was correct in banning him. He donated the money to tsunami victims in South and Southeast Asia.

For the Record …

Born Stephen Demetre Georgiou on July 21, 1948, in London, England; changed name to Yusuf Islam, mid-1970s; married; children: four daughters, one son. Education: Attended Hammersmith College of Art.

Recording artist and concert performer, 1967-signed to Decca label; released debut album, Matthew and Son, 1967; signed to A&M label; released Mona Bone Jakon album, 1970; publicly announced conversion to Islam, 1977; dropped out of recording industry; released several albums of primarily spoken didactic Islamic material, late 1990s and early 2000s; released An Other Cup, 2006.

Awards: Man for Peace prize, Rome, Italy, 2003.

Addresses: Record company—Atlantic Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019. Website—Yusuf Islam Official Website—http://www.yusufislam.com.

The big question seemed to be whether Yusuf Islam would ever again record and perform secular music. "I went through various attitudes toward my music," he told Chris Willman of Entertainment Weekly in 2000. "The first was almost nonchalance; I'd found something much more precious." Later, conservative clerics counseled him to renounce his secular songs. "But after studying the issue, I found there's no explicit statement in the Koran which tells you one way or the other about music. It does talk about the condition of man's life, so you have to measure what music does to a person." Fans talked to Islam about the positive effects Cat Stevens's songs had had on their lives.

The final result was the secular but still spiritual album An Other Cup, released in late 2006. The album was billed as a release by Yusuf, with no "Islam"—"because ‘Islam’ doesn't have to be sloganized," he explained to Nigel Williamson of Billboard. "The second name is like the official tag, but you call a friend by their first name. It's more intimate, and to me that's the message of this record." To Williamson he further explained his aims: "Music can be healing, and with my history and my knowledge of both sides of what looks like a gigantic divide in the world, I feel I can point a way toward our common humanity again." The album included Islam originals as well as a cover of the Animals' "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." All Music Guide reviewer Thom Jurek pointed to the "holistic" themes of An Other Cup and praised the album as "a minor but pleasantly unexpected surprise." "His voice is warm, rich, and inviting, his melodies are as irresistible as ever, and his way of relating [his] experience is direct," Jurek wrote.

Selected discography

Matthew and Son, Decca, 1967.

New Masters, Decca. 1968.

Mona Bone Jakon, A&M, 1970.

Tea for the Tillerman, A&M, 1970.

Teaser and the Firecat, A&M, 1971.

Catch Bull at Four, A&M, 1972.

Foreigner, A&M, 1973.

Buddah and the Chocolate Box, A&M, 1974.

Numbers, A&M, 1975.

Izitso, A&M, 1977.

Back to Earth, A&M, 1978.

(As Yusuf Islam) The Life of the Last Prophet, Resurgent, 1995.

(As Yusuf Islam) Prayers of the Last Prophet, Resurgent, 1999.

(As Yusuf Islam, contributor) I Have No Cannons That Roar, 2000.

(As Yusuf Islam) A Is for Allah, Resurgent, 2000.

(As Yusuf Islam) I Look, I See, Jamal, 2003.

(As Yusuf Islam) Night of Remembrance: Live at the Royal Albert Hall, Mountain of Light, 2004.

(As Yusuf) An Other Cup, Polydor/Atlantic, 2006.

Sources

Periodicals

Billboard, February 24, 1996, p. 43; December 11, 1999, p. 69; March 26, 2005, p. 39.

Entertainment Weekly, June 9, 2000, p. 36.

Newsweek, December 6, 2004, p. 8.

New York Times, May 23, 1989; January 7, 2007.

People, April 6, 1998, p. 152.

U.S. News & World Report, October 4, 2004, p. 12.

Online

"Cat Stevens," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (April 1, 2007).

Yusuf Islam Official Website, http://www.yusufislam.com (April 1, 2007).

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Stevens, Cat

Cat Stevens

Singer, songwriter, pianist, and guitarist

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

Singer-songwriter Cat Stevens has gone through many changes during the course of his career. Beginning as a British teen idol in the late 1960s, he eventually rose to great heights of popular and critical acclaim as a folk artist in the 1970s. Then, while still enjoying a large following of music fans, Stevens converted to Islam and stopped putting out records to devote himself to his new religion. He took the name Yusuf Islam, and eventually rid himself of all vestiges of his secular career, giving away his guitars and the many gold records he had earned.

Stevens was born Steven Georgiou to Greek immigrant parents, July 21, 1948, in London, England. Interested in music from an early age, he preferred the stirring songs of his parents native country as a child, but in his adolescence became more attracted to the rock and roll music his friends enjoyed. By the time Stevens had graduated from secondary school and was attending the Hammersmith College of Art, he was also performing in small clubs in London. He had gathered a fairly large following, and eventually a professional manager became interested in the young mans talent. Shortly afterwards, Stevenss first demo tape garnered him a recording contract with Decca in England.

Decca saw Stevens as a pop artist, and wanted him to record teen-oriented songs. Perhaps because of his youth, the singer-songwriter at first had no trouble complying. His first album, Matthew and Son, was released in 1967, and the title track became a British hit. More successes, including I Love My Dog and The First Cut Is the Deepest, followed, and he toured England, Belgium, and France. But Stevens became dissatisfied with his material, and tried to get Decca to record some more mature tunes that he had written. When they refused, he grew more depressed about his career. He later told Mark F. Zeller in Rolling Stone that during this period, in order to get onstage, I used to have to drink. To get drunk. Stevens also neglected his health in other ways, and in late 1968 had to be hospitalized for three months with tuberculosis.

By the time Stevens was well enough to leave the hospital, he had decided to drop out of the music scene for a while. He reemerged with a more mature, folk-oriented style, his instrumentation was more spare, and his appearance drastically changedthe cleanshaven teen idol now had long hair and a bushy beard. The album he recorded in 1970, Mona Bone Jakon, received a great deal of critical acclaim and brought Stevens to the attention of music fans in the United States. The follow-up, 1970s Tea for the Tillerman, became his first gold album, and included the classics Wild World, Father and Son, and Miles from Nowhere. His popularity was further increased in that year by a live radio concert in Los Angeles, California,

For the Record

Name originally Steven Demetri Georgiou (name changed L 1 to Yusuf Islam; one source says Yusef, another, Yusaf), born July 31, 1948, in London, England; married; children: four daughters, one son. Education: attended Hammersmith College of Art. Religion: Islam.

Recording artist and concert performer, c 1967-1977. Runs a Muslim school in London, England. Provided songs for the film Harold and Maude.

Awards: several gold albums.

Addresses: Home London, England. Record company A&M Records, 1416 N. La Brea, Los Angeles, Calif. 90028.

which prompted Los Angeles Times critic Robert Hilburn to hail Stevens as an exceptional singer and artist whose highly distinctive voice has the rare ability to combine the strength, fragility, and sometimes mystery of his highly personal compositions.

Stevenss success continued throughout the 1970s, and he racked up gold album after gold album. Teaser and the Firecat, his 1971 effort, had on it three songs that are perhaps his most famousMoonshadow, Morning Has Broken, and Peace Train. In 1972, Catch Bull at Four yielded the hit Sitting; 1974s Buddah and the Chocolate Box brought forth Oh, Very Young and a remake of the Sam Cooke smash, Another Saturday Night. But the latter album began a period of slight critical disfavor for Stevensmany reviewers felt it and his subsequent albums did not measure up to his earlier work. He was still supported by his fans, however, and his hits during the late 1970s included Ready, Two Fine People, and his last big-selling single, Old School Yard.

But as early as the mid-1970s, forces were at work in Stevenss personal life which foreshadowed a drastic turn-about. According to Zeller, he nearly drowned while swimming at a California beach. Struggling against the undertow, Stevens made a promise to serve God if his life was spared. He told Zeller: Immediately, a wave came from behind and pushed me forward. All of a sudden, I was swimming back. Then, shortly afterwards, his older brother gave him a copy of the Koran the holy scriptures of the Islamic faithto read. By 1977, Stevens went public with his conversion to Islam and his decision to stop recording secular music; however, A&M, his record company, had enough of his material stored up to release a final album, Back to Earth, in 1978.

When last heard from, Stevens, or Yusuf Islam, as he now prefers to be called, was running a Muslim school for children in London, England. There, he uses his musical talents to write religious songs and poems for the pupils. Though in 1984 he emphatically denied rumors that he was living in Iran as a follower of the late Ayatollah Khomeini and that he was studying to become an Ayatollah himself, he resurfaced as the object of controversy in 1989 when he came out in support of the late Ayatullahs death threats to author Salman Rushdie, whom he considers to have defamed the Islamic religion with his book, The Satanic Verses. Reportedly, Yusuf Islam is still considering recording again, though his albums would most likely be expressions of his faith aimed primarily at children. He believes his mission is to teach others to accept his religion, explained Zeller.

Selected discography

LPs

Matthew and Son (includes Matthew and Son), Decca, 1967.

New Masters, Decca, 1968.

Mona Bone Jakon (includes Mona Bone Jakon, I Think I See the Light, Lady DArbaville, Fill My Eyes, and Lilywhite), A&M, 1970.

Tea for the Tillerman (includes Tea for the Tillerman, Sad Lisa, Longer Boats, Father and Son, Wild World, and Miles from Nowhere), A&M, 1970.

Teaser and the Firecat (includes Moonshadow, Morning Has Broken, and Peace Train), A&M, 1971.

Catch Bull at Four (includes Sitting), A&M, 1972.

Foreigner, A&M, 1973.

Buddah and the Chocolate Box (includes Oh, Very Young and Another Saturday Night), A&M, 1974.

Greatest Hits (includes Ready and Two Fine People), A&M, 1975.

Numbers, A&M, 1975.

Izitso (includes Old School Yard and Is a Dog a Doughnut), A&M, 1977.

Back to Earth, A&M, 1978.

Also released singles, I Love My Dog and The First Cut is the Deepest, Decca, c 1968.

Sources

Los Angeles Times, June 8, 1971.

Rolling Stone, August 25, 1988.

Variety, March 15, 1989.

Elizabeth Thomas

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Stevens, Cat." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Stevens, Cat." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/stevens-cat

"Stevens, Cat." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/stevens-cat