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Wonder, Stevie

Stevie Wonder

1950-

Singer, songwriter

In the course of following Stevie Wonder on his relentless travels, journalists come to realize just how beloved an entertainer he is. "It dawned on me," wrote Giles Smith in the New Yorker, "that a substantial part of Stevie Wonder's public life consists of the voices of complete strangers telling him they love him." Rolling Stone's David Ritz had a similar epiphany. "Following Stevie Wonder around New York is exhilarating work," he wrote. "I get the feeling that he loves being Stevie Wonder. He loves the attention, the adulation, the chance to perform." What's more, Ritz remarked, Wonder's "optimism is infectious." Such optimism may spring from a deep spiritual wellspring, but it is also sustained by decades spent creating indelible, meaningful music.

It is estimated that Wonder—born Stevland Judkins Morris in Saginaw, Michigan—was blinded by a surfeit of oxygen in his incubator shortly after his premature birth. "I vaguely remember light and what my mother looks like," he ventured in a 1986 Life interview, "but I could be dreaming." His father left the family early on, and he and his five siblings were raised by their mother. She moved the clan to Detroit, where they struggled mightily to survive. Though he has groused good-naturedly in adulthood at the limitations his sightlessness has placed on him, Wonder told Ritz that as a child he soothed his mother's tears by telling her that he "wasn't sad." He recalled, "I believed God had something for me to do." Along with his siblings, he paid musical tribute to the Almighty in the Whitestone Baptist Church Choir, along with his vocal prowess demonstrating a gift for piano, harmonica, and drums by age 11.

Thanks to the intercession of a friend, Stevland was brought to the attention of Berry Gordy, president of Detroit-based Motown Records, and Gordy's producer Brian Holland. Gordy placed the exceptional young ster's career in the hands of his associate Clarence Paul, whom he designated as Stevie's mentor. Paul told Rolling Stone's Ritz that Gordy had instructed him, "Your job is to bring out his genius. This boy can give us hits." Handed the show business moniker "Little Stevie Wonder," the talented adolescent—signed to the Motown offshoot label Tamla—did indeed produce a stunning string of hits.

Wonder's fourth single, "Fingertips, Pt. 2," appeared in 1963 and became the first live performance of a song to reach the top of the U.S. pop charts. Also that year, Wonder became the first recording artist to reach the top position on the Billboard Hot 100, R&B singles, and album charts simultaneously. Unable to attend a regular Detroit school while becoming a pop sensation, Wonder was sent to the Michigan School for the Blind at Motown's expense.

"Motown meant discipline to me," Wonder recalled to Ritz. "The attitude was 'Do it over. Do it differently. Do it until it can't be done any better.'" Under such demanding circumstances the young performer grew up fast. In 1964 he put aside the "Little" label and let fans focus on the Wonder; over the next few years he churned out pop-soul smashes like "Uptight," "Nothing's Too Good for My Baby," "I Was Made to Love Her," and "For Once in My Life." By 1968 his label had amassed enough chart-toppers to fill his first Greatest Hits album.

In 1969 Wonder met President Richard Nixon at the White House, where he received a Distinguished Service Award from the President's Committee on Employment of Handicapped People. Meanwhile, he continued to pile up hits, as "My Cherie Amour" sold over a million copies and "Signed Sealed Delivered (I'm Yours)" vaulted up the charts. 1970 saw Wonder marry Syreeta Wright, a Motown employee and aspiring singer; the two wrote together, and Wonder produced several successful records for her. The marriage was short-lived, however; they divorced in 1972. By all accounts, they remain friends.

Wright has said that Wonder's music was her chief rival. "He would wake up and go straight to the keyboard," she recalled to Smith of the New Yorker. "I knew and understood that his passion was music. That was really his No. 1 wife." Wonder fathered children by three other women over the next couple of decades, though he did not remarry. "I was at the birth of two of my children," he confided in Life. "I felt them being born—it was amazing." In a 1995 Rolling Stone interview, the 44-year-old artist did express a yearning for matrimony, calling it "the space where we're most relaxed and able to give and receive maximum love. I'm not there yet—but soon. It's one of my goals."

When Wonder turned 21 in 1971 he was due the money he had earned as a minor (this arrangement had been stipulated in a previous agreement). But Motown only paid him $1 million of the $30 million he'd earned during that time. After considerable legal wrangling he managed to attain a unique degree of artistic and financial autonomy. "At 21, Stevie was interested in being treated well and in controlling his life and in presenting his music, and all those things were extraordinary things for a young man to ask at that point," explained Johanan Vigoda, Wonder's longtime attorney, to Smith of the New Yorker. "It wasn't the freedom to be dissolute or undisciplined. He wanted to be free so that he could bring the best of himself to the table."

What Wonder brought to the table—with the establishment of his own music publishing company and near-total creative freedom—was an increasingly sophisticated body of work that managed to fuse the high spirits of classic soul, the down-and-dirty syncopations of funk, exquisite melodies, and his own introspective and increasingly politicized lyrical sensibility. From a sonic standpoint, too, he was a trailblazer, demonstrating the versatility of the synthesizer when it was still something of a novelty instrument in the R&B world.

At a Glance …

Born Stevland Judkins Morris, May 13, 1950, in Saginaw, MI; son of Lulu Mae Morris; married Syreeta Wright (a singer), 1971 (divorced, 1972); married Karen "Kai" Millard; children: seven children (five outside of marriage).

Career: Recording artist, Motown Records, 1963-. Founded Black Bull Music publishing company, 1971; sponsored Stevie Wonder Home for Blind and Retarded Children, 1976; founded Wondirection Records, 1982; activist for and contributor to various political and social causes, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the establishment of a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., the anti-apartheid movement, AIDS awareness, and Charge Against Hunger program; KJLH radio station, Los Angeles, owner.

Awards: 15 Grammy awards, including those for best male vocalist in both pop and R&B categories, best pop song, and best album; Distinguished Service Award, President's Committee on Employment of Handicapped People, 1969; Academy Award for best song, 1985, for "I Just Called to Say I Love You"; inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1989; Whitney M. Young Award, Los Angeles Urban League, 1990; Carousel of Hope Award, Children's Diabetes Foundation, 1990; Honorary Global Founder's Award, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 1990; Essence magazine award, 1995; inducted into Songwriters Hall of Fame, 2002; National Academy of Popular Music/ Songwriters Hall of Fame, Johnny Mercer Award, 2004; Billboard Music Awards, Century Award, 2004.

Addresses: Office—c/o Motown Records, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10019; 5750 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036.

Wonder's momentum was almost stopped permanently by a 1973 automobile accident that nearly claimed his life and left him with deep facial scars. If anything, however, this event provoked him to redouble his efforts. Virtually all of Wonder's work during the early to mid-1970s is essential pop, most notably his albums Talking Book, Innervisions, Fulfillingness' First Finale, and the epic Songs in the Key of Life. His songs from this period—including the percolating funk-rock workouts "Superstition" and "Higher Ground," the effervescent "Boogie on Reggae Woman," the jubilant paean to classic jazz "Sir Duke," the grittily nostalgic "I Wish," and the breezy chartbuster "You Are the Sunshine of My Life"—left most of Wonder's competition in the dust both artistically and commercially. "What artist in his right mind," mused singer-songwriter and soul icon Marvin Gaye in the presence of Rolling Stone's Ritz, "wouldn't be intimidated by Stevie Wonder?"

1979 saw the release of Wonder's musically beguiling Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, the theme of which many listeners found a little eccentric, to say the least. "It was a consideration of the physical and spiritual relationships between human beings and plants," Wonder explained to Ritz, quipping that "some called it shrubbish." Though he increasingly failed to match his creative and sales peaks of the preceding decades, Wonder was still a giant presence in the world of pop. His Hotter Than July, with its reggae-driven hit "Master Blaster (Jammin')," indicated his continuing creative restlessness. And "That Girl," the unstoppable love song "I Just Called to Say I Love You"—which won an Academy Award for best song and stands as Motown's top-selling single internationally—and his duet with ex-Beatle Paul McCartney on the anti-racism anthem "Ebony and Ivory" all burned up the charts.

Over the years Wonder also became progressively more involved in politics, lobbying for gun control, against drunk driving and the apartheid system enforced by South Africa's white minority, and on behalf of a national holiday in recognition of civil rights martyr Martin Luther King, Jr. He played a number of benefits and made public service announcements, often winning honors for his advocacy. The slogan underneath his picture on a poster for Mothers Against Drunk Driving read: "Before I ride with a drunk, I'll drive myself." He also contributed his labor to the Charge Against Hunger campaign organized by American Express.

By the late 1980s, Wonder had become less prolific than he had been in the past, but he was still phenomenally successful. He received a Grammy for 1986's In Square Circle and in 1989 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He won plaudits for his work on the soundtrack to Spike Lee's 1991 film Jungle Fever, allegedly composing the material for it in the space of three weeks. "Movies are always a good challenge," he told Neil Strauss of the New York Times, "because it's taking what's happening visually and, even though I'm not able to see it, getting a sense of the movie and finding a new way to work with it." His work for Jungle Fever had preempted a collection of songs he'd been crafting while living in the African nation of Ghana; the resulting disc would not hit stores for several years.

In 1992—by which time multimillion-dollar deals had become commonplace—Wonder signed a unique lifetime pact with Motown. "This is a guy you don't ever want to see recording for anyone else," company president Jheryl Busby told the New Yorker's Smith in 1995. "I worked hard to make Stevie see that we had his interests at heart. Stevie is what I call the crown jewel, the epitome. I wasn't looking at Stevie as an aging superstar but as an icon who could pull us into the future." Wonder himself seemed to share this sense of his eternal newness: "I'm going to be 45," he reflected to Ritz in Rolling Stone, "but I'm still feeling new and amazed by the world I live in. I was in the Hard Rock Cafe in Tokyo last week, and they started playing my records, and I started crying, crying like a little kid, thinking how God has blessed me with all these songs."

When Conversation Peace—the album on which Wonder had been working for nearly eight years—was released in 1995, it garnered a range of reactions. Vibe deemed it "a decidedly mixed bag, leapfrogging back and forth between divine inspiration and inoffensive professionalism"; reviewer Tom Sinclair took particular exception to the "cloying sentimentality" of some of the songs, as did other critics. Entertainment Weekly praised the album's sound, but noted that "the song selection here, while frisky, is thin, making this comeback small Wonder." Time's Christopher John Farley, however, while allowing that the recording "isn't a slam dunk," called it "another winner for Wonder." Regardless of their respective verdicts, most reviewers concurred that Wonder's versatility, passion, and chops remained intact.

Wonder proved the validity of these observations during his 1995 concert tour. "Running 2 1/4 hours, it was an outstanding show—full of pure, old-fashioned R&B," declared Los Angeles Times writer Dennis Hunt of Wonder's performance at the Universal Amphitheatre. Pondering the performer's endurance and the disappearance of most of his contemporaries from the scene, Hunt observed, "Some may point to exquisite taste as the key to Wonder's success, but the real secret is his ability to stay current, to be fluent in the R&B style of the moment." Not surprisingly, critics were virtually unanimous about Wonder's 1995 live double CD, Natural Wonder, which Rolling Stone called "an important and revelatory statement."

It took ten years for Wonder to release his next album—ten long years, in the opinion of his label, which went through troubled times over those years, including several changes in management. By mid-2005, Wonder had released the first single from the album, a funky number called "So What the Fuss" which featured Prince on guitar. The video for the single was greeted with acclaim as the first-ever video with descriptive narration for the visually impaired. The narration, voiced by rapper Busta Rhymes, describes the actions that accompany the song, including comments on what Wonder is wearing and what instruments are being played. The album, A Time 2 Love, was expected to follow by mid-summer 2005, yet Wonder kept delaying its release, to the frustration of Motown execs. Newsweek quoted wonder as saying: "The reason they haven't got it is I'm not ready to give it to them. However long it takes me, I'm giving the very best that I can…I won't settle for less." It remains to be seen how this album will fit into the Wonder pantheon of music.

Wonder has clearly slowed down the pace at which he releases albums, though he continues to consider himself both a musician and an activist. He conducts an annual holiday benefit concert to provide toys to underprivileged children, he performed at the Live 8 benefit concert in 2005, and he owns a Los Angeles radio station, KJLH, that is dedicated to serving L.A.'s black community. Asked by Billboard whether he had become more activist than musician, Wonder answered: "I'm more musician. My way of expressing how I feel when I'm talking about political or social positions is better served when I do it through my music. It's not to say I can't express myself verbally. But music is the vehicle I've been given as a way to do that." Wonder's plans for the future include a variety of projects. "I plan to do a book," he told Billboard, "and I'm excited about the prospects of a film…. It would be very inspirational in the things that I went through growing up as a little boy being blind and the things my mother had to contend with…. Then maybe there would be another film about the second half of my life…. More than anything, I want to do a musical. I'd also like to do an acting role. I have a couple of ideas I've been working on, film storylines that are pretty good." Though many in the music industry view Wonder as one of the forefathers of modern funk and R&B, Wonder insists that his musical career is far from over: "For me to say I've reached my peak is to say that God is through using me for what he has given me the opportunity to do. And I just don't believe that."

Selected discography

Albums (On Motown, unless otherwise noted)

Little Stevie Wonder: The Twelve-Year-Old Genius, 1963.

Recorded Live (includes "Fingertips, Pt. 2"), 1963.

Uptight (includes "Uptight"), 1966.

Down to Earth, 1967.

I Was Made to Love Her (includes "I Was Made to Love Her"), 1967.

Stevie Wonder's Greatest Hits, 1968.

For Once in My Life (includes "For Once in My Life"), 1969.

My Cherie Amour (includes "My Cherie Amour"), 1969.

Stevie Wonder Live, 1970.

Signed Sealed and Delivered (includes "Signed Sealed Delivered [I'm Yours]"), 1970.

Where I'm Coming From, 1971.

Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, 1972.

Music of My Mind, 1972.

Talking Book (includes "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" and "Superstition"), 1972.

Innervisions (includes "Higher Ground"), 1973.

Fulfillingness' First Finale (includes "Boogie on Reggae Woman"), 1974.

Songs in the Key of Life (includes "Sir Duke" and "I Wish"), 1976.

Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, 1979.

Hotter Than July (includes "Master Blaster [Jammin']"), 1980.

Stevie Wonder's Original Musiquarium (includes "That Girl"), 1982.

In Square Circle, 1985.

Characters, 1987.

Jungle Fever (soundtrack), 1992.

Natural Wonder, 1995.

Conversation Peace, 1995.

At the Close of a Century (boxed set), 1999.

The Definitive Collection, 2002.

A Time to Love (includes "So What the Fuss"), 2005.

Duets

With Paul McCartney, "Ebony and Ivory," Tug of War, Columbia, 1982.

With Chaka Khan, "I Feel for You," I Feel for You, Warner Bros., 1984.

With Dionne Warwick, "That's What Friends Are For," 1986.

With Lenny Kravitz, "Deuce," Kiss My Ass, 1995.

Also contributed songs to albums by Rufus, Minnie Riperton, and other artists.

Sources

Books

Love, Dennis, and Stacy Brown, Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder's Mother, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002.

Lodder, Steve, Stevie Wonder: A Musical Guide to the Classic Albums, San Francisco, CA: Backbeat, 2005.

Werner, Craig Hansen, Higher Ground: Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, and the Rise and Fall of American Soul, New York: Crown, 2004.

Periodicals

Billboard, May 13, 1995, p. 26; December 11, 2004, p. 15.

Ebony, July 2004, p. 24.

Entertainment Weekly, March 31, 1995, p. 61.

Jet, May 8, 1995, pp. 56-58; May 22, 1995.

Life, October 1986, pp. 67-74.

Los Angeles Times, January 16, 1995, p. F1.

Newsweek, June 20, 2005, p. 44.

New Yorker, March 13, 1995, pp. 78-87.

New York Times, January 25, 1995, p. C15.

Rolling Stone, July 13, 1995, pp. 82-85, 126; January 25, 1996, p. 72.

Time, September 4, 1995, p. 76; April 10, 1995, p. 88.

Vibe, March 1995, pp. 97-98.

On-line

Stevie-Wonder.com, www.stevie-wonder.com (August 11, 2005).

Stevie Wonder Official Site, www.steviewonder.net (August 11, 2005).

—Simon Glickman and Tom Pendergast

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Wonder, Stevie

Stevie Wonder

Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist

For the Record

Fingertips, Pt. 2

Accident Redoubled Commitment

Back with Conversation Peace

Selected discography

Sources

In the course of following Stevie Wonder on his relentless travels, journalists come to realize just how beloved an entertainer he is. It dawned on me, wrote Giles Smith in the New Yorker, that a substantial part of Stevie Wonders public life consists of the voices of complete strangers telling him they love him. Rolling Stones David Ritz had a similar epiphany. Following Stevie Wonder around New York is exhilarating work, he wrote. I get the feeling that he loves being Stevie Wonder. He loves the attention, the adulation, the chance to perform. Whats more, Ritz remarked, Wonders optimism is infectious. Such optimism may spring from a deep spiritual wellspring, but it is also sustained by decades spent creating indelible, meaningful pop music.

It is estimated that Wonderborn Stevland Judkins Morris in Saginaw, Michiganwas blinded by a surfeit of oxygen in his incubator shortly after his premature birth. I vaguely remember light and what my mother looks like, he ventured in a 1986 Life interview, but I could be dreaming. His father left the family early on, and he and his five siblings were raised by their mother;

For the Record

Born Stevland Judkins Morris, May 13, 1950, in Saginaw, MI; son of Lulu Mae Morris; married Syreeta Wright (a singer), 1971 (divorced, 1972); children (with women other than Wright): Aisha, Keita, Mumtaz, and Kwame.

Signed to Motown Records, 1963; billed as Little Stevie Wonder ; founded Black Bull Music publishing company, 1971; sponsored Stevie Wonder Home for Blind and Retarded Children, 1976; founded Wondirection Records, 1982; contributed songs to The Woman in Red film soundtrack, 1984; appeared on AIDS benefit single Thats What Friends Are For, 1986; contributed songs to Jungle Fever film soundtrack, 1991; activist for and contributor to various political and social causes, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the establishment of a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., the anti-apartheid movement, AIDS awareness, and Charge Against Hunger program.

Selected awards 15 Grammy awards, including those for best male vocalist in both pop and R&B categories, best pop song, and best album; Distinguished Service Award, Presidents Committee on Employment of Handicapped People, 1969; Academy Award for best song, 1985, for I Just Called to Say I Love You ; inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1989; Whitney M. Young Award, Los Angeles Urban League, 1990; Carousel of Hope Award, Childrens Diabetes Foundation, 1990; Honorary Global Founders Award, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 1990; Essence magazine award, 1995.

Addresses: Record company Motown Records, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10019; 5750 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036.

she moved the clan to Detroit, where they struggled mightily to survive. Though he has groused good-naturedly in adulthood at the limitations his sightlessness has placed on him, Wonder told Ritz that as a child he soothed his mothers tears by telling her that he wasnt sad. He recalled, I believed God had something for me to do. Along with his siblings, he paid musical tribute to the Almighty in the Whitestone Baptist Church Choir, along with his vocal prowess demonstrating a gift for piano, harmonica, and drums by age 11.

Thanks to the intercession of a friend, Stevland was brought to the attention of Berry Gordy, president of Detroit-based Motown Records, and Gordys producer Brian Holland. Gordy placed the exceptional youngsters career in the hands of his associate Clarence Paul, whom he designated as Stevies mentor. Paul told Rolling Stones Ritz that Gordy had instructed him, Your job is to bring out his genius. This boy can give us hits. Handed the show business moniker Little Stevie Wonder, the prodigious adolescentsigned to the Motown offshoot label Tamladid indeed yield hits.

Fingertips, Pt. 2

Wonders fourth single, Fingertips, Pt. 2, appeared in 1963 and became the first live performance of a song to reach the top of the U.S. pop chart. Also that year, Wonder became the first recording artist to reach the Number One position on the Billboard Hot 100, R&B singles, and album charts simultaneously. Unable to attend a regular Detroit school while becoming a pop sensation, Wonder was sent to the Michigan School for the Blind at Motowns expense.

Motown meant discipline to me, Wonder recalled to Ritz. The attitude was Do it over. Do it differently. Do it until it cant be done any better. Under such demanding circumstances the young performer grew up fast. In 1964 he put aside the Little label and let fans focus on the Wonder; over the next few years he churned out pop-soul smashes like Uptight, Nothings Too Good for My Baby, I Was Made to Love Her, and For Once in My Life. By 1968 his label had amassed enough chart-toppers to fill his first Greatest Hits album.

In 1969 Wonder met President Richard Nixon at the White House, where he received a Distinguished Service Award from the Presidents Committee on Employment of Handicapped People. Meanwhile, he continued to pile up hits as My Cherie Amour sold over a million copies and Signed Sealed Delivered (Im Yours) vaulted up the charts. 1970 saw Wonder marry Syreeta Wright, a Motown employee and aspiring singer; the two wrote together, and Wonder produced several successful records for her. The marriage was shortlived, however; they divorced in 1972. By all accounts, they remain friends.

Wright has said that Wonders music was her chief rival. He would wake up and go straight to the keyboard, she recalled to Smith of the New Yorker. I knew and understood that his passion was music. That was really his No. 1 wife. Wonder fathered children by three other women over the next couple of decades, though he did not remarry. I was at the birth of two of my children, he confided in Life. I felt them being bornit was amazing. In a 1995 Rolling Stone interview, the 44-year-old artist did express a yearning for matrimony, calling it the space where were most relaxed and able to give and receive maximum love. Im not there yetbut soon. Its one of my goals.

When Wonder turned 21 in 1971 he was due the money he had earned as a minor (this arrangement had been stipulated in a previous agreement). But Motown only paid him one million of the $30 million hed earned during that time. After considerable legal wrangling he managed to attain a unique degree of artistic and financial autonomy. At 21, Stevie was interested in being treated well and in controlling his life and in presenting his music, and all those things were extraordinary things for a young man to ask at that point, explained Johanan Vigoda, Wonders longtime attorney, to Smith of the New Yorker. It wasnt the freedom to be dissolute or undisciplined. He wanted to be free so that he could bring the best of himself to the table.

What Wonder brought to the tablewith the establishment of his own music publishing company and near-total creative freedomwas an increasingly sophisticated body of work that managed to fuse the high spirits of classic soul, the down-and-dirty syncopations of funk, exquisite melodies, and his own introspective and increasingly politicized lyrical sensibility. From a sonic standpoint, too, he was a trailblazer, demonstrating the versatility of the synthesizer when it was still something of a novelty instrument in the R&B world.

Accident Redoubled Commitment

Wonders momentum was almost stopped permanently by a 1973 automobile accident that nearly claimed his life and left him with deep facial scars. If anything, however, this event provoked him to redouble his efforts. Virtually all of Wonders work during the early to mid-1970s is essential pop, most notably his albums Talking Book, Innervisions, Fulfillingness First Finale, and the epic Songs in the Key of Life. His songs from this period, including the percolating funk-rock workouts Superstition and Higher Ground, the effervescent Boogie on Reggae Woman, the jubilant paean to classic jazz Sir Duke, the grittily nostalgic I Wish, and the breezy chartbuster You Are the Sunshine of My Life, left most of Wonders competition in the dust both artistically and commercially. What artist in his right mind, mused singer-songwriter and soul icon Marvin Gaye in the presence of Rolling Stones Ritz, wouldnt be intimidated by Stevie Wonder?

1979 saw the release of Wonders musically beguiling Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, the theme of which many listeners found a little eccentric, to say the least. It was a consideration of the physical and spiritual relationships between human beings and plants, Wonder explained to Ritz, quipping that some called it shrubbish. Though he increasingly failed to match his creative and sales peaks of the preceding decades, Wonder was still a giant presence in the world of pop. His Hotter Than July, with its reggae-driven hit Master Blaster (Jammin), indicated his continuing creative restlessness. And That Girl, the unstoppable love song I Just Called to Say I Love You which won an Academy Award for best song and stands as Motowns top-selling single internationallyand his duet with ex-Beatle Paul McCartney on the anti-racism anthem Ebony and Ivory all burned up the charts.

Over the years Wonder also became progressively more involved in politics, lobbying for gun control, against drunk driving and the apartheid system enforced by South Africas white minority, and on behalf of a national holiday in recognition of civil rights martyr Martin Luther King, Jr. He played a number of benefits and made public service announcements, often winning honors for his advocacy. The slogan underneath his picture on a poster for Mothers Against Drunk Driving read: Before I ride with a drunk, Ill drive myself. He also contributed his labor to the Charge Against Hunger campaign organized by American Express.

By the late 1980s, Wonder had become less prolific than he had been in the past, but he was still phenomenally successful. He snagged a Grammy for 1986s In Square Circle and in 1989 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He won plaudits for his work on the soundtrack to Spike Lees 1991 film Jungle Fever, allegedly composing the material for it in the space of three weeks. Movies are always a good challenge, he told Neil Strauss of the New York Times, because its taking whats happening visually and, even though Im not able to see it, getting a sense of the movie and finding a new way to work with it. His work for Jungle Fever had preempted a collection of songs hed been crafting while living in the African nation of Ghana; the resulting disc would not hit stores for several years.

In 1992by which time multimillion-dollar deals had become commonplaceWonder signed a unique lifetime pact with Motown. This is a guy you dont ever want to see recording for anyone else, company president Jheryl Busby told the New Yorkers Smith in 1995. I worked hard to make Stevie see that we had his interests at heart. Stevie is what I call the crown jewel, the epitome. I wasnt looking at Stevie as an aging superstar but as an icon who could pull us into the future. Wonder himself seemed to share this sense of his eternal newness: Im going to be 45, he reflected to Ritz in Rolling Stone, but Im still feeling new and amazed by the world I live in. I was in the Hard Rock Cafe in Tokyo last week, and they started playing my records, and I started crying, crying like a little kid, thinking how God has blessed me with all these songs.

Back with Conversation Peace

When Conversation Peace the album on which Wonder had been working for nearly eight yearswas released in 1995, it garnered a range of reactions. Vibe deemed it a decidedly mixed bag, leapfrogging back and forth between divine inspiration and inoffensive professionalism ; reviewer Tom Sinclair took particular exception to the cloying sentimentality of some of the songs, as did other critics. Entertainment Weekly praised the albums sound, but noted that the song selection here, while frisky, is thin, making this comeback small Wonder. Times Christopher John Farley, however, while allowing that the recording isnt a slam dunk, called it another winner for Wonder. Regardless of their respective verdicts, most reviewers concurred that Wonders versatility, passion, and chops remained intact.

Wonder proved the validity of these observations during his 1995 concert tour. Running 2 1/4 hours, it was an outstanding showfull of pure, old-fashioned R&B, declared Los Angeles Times writer Dennis Hunt of Wonders performance at the Universal Amphitheatre. Pondering the performers endurance and the disappearance of most of his contemporaries from the scene, Hunt observed, Some may point to exquisite taste as the key to Wonders success, but the real secret is his ability to stay current, to be fluent in the R&B style of the moment. Not surprisingly, critics were virtually unanimous about Wonders 1995 live double CD, Natural Wonder, which Rolling Stone called an important and revelatory statement.

Wonder expressed the desire to do an album of all praise that is, gospelin his interview with Ritz. But regardless of the genre he pursues, his music will undoubtedly always reflect his undeniably compassionate spirituality. While he has inspired a new generation of artistsincluding rockers the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who made their bid for mainstream popularity with a versionof Higher Ground, Lenny Kravitz, Michael Franti of Spearhead, and virtually every aspiring young soul artisthe nonetheless expressed his determination to keep growing. Youre influenced all the time, he asserted to New York Times writer Strauss, and the day that you cannot be influenced by anything good is the day that you really have let your art die.

Selected discography

On Motown, unless otherwise noted

Little Stevie Wonder: The Twelve-Year-Old Genius, 1963.

Recorded Live (includes Fingertips, Pt. 2), 1963.

Uptight (includes Uptight), 1966.

Down to Earth, 1967.

I Was Made to Love Her (includes I Was Made to Love Her), 1967.

Stevie Wonders Greatest Hits, 1968.

For Once in My Life (includes For Once in My Life), 1969.

My Cherie Amour (includes My Cherie Amour), 1969.

Stevie Wonder Live, 1970.

Signed Sealed and Delivered (includes Signed Sealed Delivered [Im Yours]), 1970.

Where Im Coming From, 1971.

Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, 1972.

Music of My Mind, 1972.

Talking Book(includes You Are the Sunshine of My Life and Superstition), 1972.

Innervisions (includes Higher Ground), 1973.

Fulfillingness First Finale (includes Boogie on Reggae Woman), 1974.

Songs in the Key of Life (includes Sir Duke and I Wish), 1976.

Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, 1979.

Hotter Than July (includes Master Blaster [Jammin]), 1980.

Stevie Wonders Original Musiquarium (includes That Girl), 1982.

In Square Circle, 1985.

Characters, 1987.

Jungle Fever (soundtrack), 1992.

Conversation Peace, 1995.

Natural Wonder, 1995.

With others

Paul McCartney, Ebony and Ivory, Tug of War, Columbia, 1982.

Chaka Khan, I Feel for You, / Feel for You, Warner Bros., 1984.

The Woman in Red (soundtrack; includes I Just Called to Say I Love You), 1984.

Dionne Warwick, Thats What Friends Are For, 1986.

(With Lenny Kravitz) Deuce, Kiss My Ass, 1995.

Stubborn Kind of Fellow, Inner City Blues: The Music of Marvin Gaye, Motown, 1995.

Quincy Jones, Qs Jook Joint, Qwest/Warner Bros., 1995.

Also contributed songs to albums by Rufus, Minnie Riperton, and other artists.

Sources

Books

Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, Billboard, 1991.

Periodicals

Entertainment Weekly, March 31, 1995, p. 61.

Jet, May 8, 1995, pp. 56-58; May 22, 1995.

Life, October 1986, pp. 67-74.

Los Angeles Times, January 16, 1995, p. F1.

New Yorker, March 13, 1995, pp. 78-87.

New York Times, January 25, 1995, p. C15.

Rolling Stone, July 13, 1995, pp. 82-85, 126; January 25, 1996, p. 72.

Time, September 4, 1995, p. 76; April 10, 1995, p. 88.

Vibe, March 1995, pp. 97-98.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from Motown Records publicity materials, 1995.

Simon Glickman

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Glickman, Simon. "Wonder, Stevie." Contemporary Musicians. 1997. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Sep. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Glickman, Simon. "Wonder, Stevie." Contemporary Musicians. 1997. Encyclopedia.com. (September 25, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3493500085.html

Glickman, Simon. "Wonder, Stevie." Contemporary Musicians. 1997. Retrieved September 25, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3493500085.html

Wonder, Stevie 1950—

Stevie Wonder 1950

Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist

This Boy Can Give Us Hits

Accident Redoubled Commitment

Lifetime Pact with Motown

Selected discography

Sources

In the course of following Stevie Wonder on his relentless travels, journalists come to realize just how beloved an entertainer he is. It dawned on me, wrote Giles Smith in the New Yorker, that a substantial part of Stevie Wonders public life consists of the voices of complete strangers telling him they love him. Rolling Stones David Ritz had a similar epiphany. Following Stevie Wonder around New York is exhilarating work, he wrote. I get the feeling that he loves being Stevie Wonder. He loves the attention, the adulation, the chance to perform. Whats more, Ritz remarked, Wonders optimism is infectious. Such optimism may spring from a deep spiritual wellspring, but it is also sustained by decades spent creating indelible, meaningful pop music.

It is estimated that Wonderborn Stevland Judkins Morris in Saginaw, Michiganwas blinded by a surfeit of oxygen in his incubator shortly after his premature birth. I vaguely remember light and what my mother looks like, he ventured in a 1986 Life interview, but I could be dreaming. His father left the family early on, and he and his five siblings were raised by their mother; she moved the clan to Detroit, where they struggled mightily to survive. Though he has groused good-naturedly in adulthood at the limitations his sightlessness has placed on him, Wonder told Ritz that as a child he soothed his mothers tears by telling her that he wasnt sad. He recalled, I believed God had something for me to do. Along with his siblings, he paid musical tribute to the Almighty in the Whitestone Baptist Church Choir, along with his vocal prowess demonstrating a gift for piano, harmonica, and drums by

This Boy Can Give Us Hits

Thanks to the intercession of a friend, Stevland was brought to the attention of Berry Gordy, president of Detroit-based Motown Records, and Gordys producer Brian Holland. Gordy placed the exceptional youngsters career in the hands of his associate Clarence Paul, whom he designated as Stevies mentor. Paul told Rolling Stones Ritz that Gordy had instructed him, Your job is to bring out his genius. This boy can give us hits. Handed the show business moniker Little Stevie Wonder, the prodigious adolescentsigned to the

At a Glance

Born Stevland Judkins Morris, May 13, 1950, in Saginaw, Ml; son of Lulu Mae Morris; married Syreeta Wright (a singer), 1971 (divorced, 1972); children (with women other than Wright): Aisha, Keita, Mumtaz, and Kwame.

Signed to Motown Records, 1963; billed as Little Stevie Wonder*; founded Black Bull Music publishing company, 1971; sponsored Stevie Wonder Home for Blind and Retarded Children, 1976; founded Wondirection Records, 1982; contributed songs to The Woman in Red film soundtrack, 1984; appeared on AIDS benefit single Thats What Friends Are For/1986; contributed songs to jungle Fever fi Im soundtrack, 1991 ; activist for and contributor to various political and social causes, includingMothers Against Drunk Driving, the establishment of a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., the anti-apartheid movement, AIDS awareness, and Charge Against Hunger program.

Selected awards: 15 Grammy awards, including those for best male vocalist in both pop and R&B categories, best pop song, and best album; Distinguished Service Award, PresidentsCommitteeon Employment of Handicapped People, 1969; Academy Award for best song, 1985, for! Just Called to Say I Love You; inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1989; Whitney M. Young Award, Los Angeles Urban League, 1990; Carousel of Hope Award, Childrens Diabetes Foundation, 1990; Honorary Global Founders Award, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 1990; Essence magazine award, 1995.

Addresses: Record company Motown Records, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10019; 5750 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036.

Motown offshoot label Tamiadid indeed yield hits.

Wonders fourth single, Fingertips, Pt. 2, appeared in 1963 and became the first live performance of a song to reach the top of the U.S. pop chart. Also that year, Wonder became the first recording artist to reach the Number One position on the Billboard Hot 100, R&B singles, and album charts simultaneously. Unable to attend a regular Detroit school while becoming a pop sensation, Wonder was sent to the Michigan School for the Blind at Motowns expense.

Motown meant discipline to me, Wonder recalled to Ritz. The attitude wasDo it over. Do it differently. Do it until it cant be done any better. Under such demanding circumstances the young performer grew up fast. In 1964 he put aside the Little label and let fans focus on the Wonder; over the next few years he churned out pop-soul smashes like Uptight, Nothings Too Good for My Baby, I Was Made to Love Her, and For Once in My Life. By 1968 his label had amassed enough chart-toppers to fill his first Greatest Hits album.

In 1969 Wonder met President Richard Nixon at the White House, where he received a Distinguished Service Award from the Presidents Committee on Employment of Handicapped People. Meanwhile, he continued to pile up hits as My Chérie Amour sold over a million copies and Signed Sealed Delivered (Im Yours) vaulted up the charts. 1970 saw Wonder marry Syreeta Wright, a Motown employee and aspiring singer; the two wrote together, and Wonder produced several successful records for her. The marriage was short-lived, however; they divorced in 1972. By all accounts, they remain friends.

Wright has said that Wonders music was her chief rival. He would wake up and go straight to the keyboard, she recalled to Smith of the New Yorker.I knew and understood that his passion was music. That was really his No. 1 wife. Wonder fathered children by three other women over the next couple of decades, though he did not remarry. I was at the birth of two of my children, he confided inLife.I felt them being born it was amazing. Ina 1995/?o//ingSioneinterview,the 44-year-old artist did express a yearning for matrimony, calling it the space where were most relaxed and able to give and receive maximum love. Im not there yet but soon. Its one of my goals.

When Wonder turned 21 in 1971 he was due the money he had earned as a minor (this arrangement had been stipulated in a previous agreement). But Motown only paid him one million of the $30 million hed earned during that time. After considerable legal wrangling he managed to attain a unique degree of artistic and financial autonomy. At 21, Stevie was interested in being treated well and in controlling his life and in presenting his music, and all those things were extraordinary things for a young man to ask at that point, explained Johanan Vigoda, Wonders longtime attorney, to Smith of theNetu Yorker.It wasnt the freedom to be dissolute or undisciplined. He wanted to be freeso that he could bring the best of himself to the table.

What Wonder brought to the tablewith the establishment of his own music publishing company and near-total creative freedomwas an increasingly sophisticated body of work that managed to fuse the high spirits of classic soul, the down-and-dirty syncopations of funk, exquisite melodies, and his own introspective and increasingly politicized lyrical sensibility. From a sonic standpoint, too, he was a trailblazer, demonstrating the versatility of the synthesizer when it was still something of a novelty instrument in the R&B world.

Accident Redoubled Commitment

Wonders momentum was almost stopped permanently by a 1973 automobile accident that nearly claimed his life and left him with deep facial scars. If anything, however, this event provoked him to redouble his efforts. Virtually all of Wonders work during the early to mid-1970s is essential pop, most notably his albums TalkingBook, Inner visions, Fulfillingness First Finale, and the epic Songs in the Key of Life.His songs from this period, including the percolating funk-rock workouts Superstition and Higher Ground, the effervescent Boogie on Reggae Woman, the jubilant paean to classic jazz Sir Duke, the grittily nostalgic I Wish, and the breezy chartbuster You Are the Sunshine of My Life, left most of Wonders competition in the dust both artistically and commercially. What artist in his right mind, mused singer-songwriter and soul icon Marvin Gaye in the presence of Rolling Stones Ritz, wouldnt be intimidated by Stevie Wonder?

1979 saw the release of Wonders musically beguiling Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, the theme of which many listeners found a little eccentric, to say the least. It was a consideration of the physical and spiritual relationships between human beings and plants, Wonder explained to Ritz, quipping that some called it shrubbish. Though he increasingly failed to match his creative and sales peaks of the preceding decades, Wonder was still a giant presence in the world of pop. His Hotter Than July, with its reggae-driven hit Master Blaster (Jammin), indicated his continuing creative restlessness. And That Girl, the unstoppable love song I Just Called to Say I Love Youwhich won an Academy Award for best song and stands as Motowns top-selling single internationallyand his duet with ex-Beatle Paul McCartney on the anti-racism anthem Ebony and Ivory all burned up the charts.

Over the years Wonder also became progressively more involved in politics, lobbying for gun control, against drunk driving and the apartheid system enforced by South Africas white minority, and on behalf of a national holiday in recognition of civil rights martyr Martin Luther King, Jr. He played a number of benefits and made public service announcements, often winning honors for his advocacy. The slogan underneath his picture on a poster for Mothers Against Drunk Driving read: Before I ride with a drunk, Ill drive myself. He also contributed his labor to the Charge Against Hunger campaign organized by American Express.

By the late 1980s, Wonder had become less prolific than he had been in the past, but he was still phenomenally successful. He snagged a Grammy for 1986sln Square Circle and in 1989 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He won plaudits for his work on the soundtrack to Spike Lees 1991 film Jungle Fever, allegedly composing the material for it in the space of three weeks. Movies are always a good challenge, he told Neil Strauss of the New York Times,, because its taking whats happening visually and, even though Im not able to see it, getting a sense of the movie and finding a new way to work with it. His work for Jungle Fever had preempted a collection of songs hed been crafting while living in the African nation of Ghana; the resulting disc would not hit stores for several years.

Lifetime Pact with Motown

In 1992by which time multimillion-dollar deals had become commonplaceWonder signed a unique lifetime pact with Motown. This is a guy you dont ever want to see recording for anyone else, company president Jheryl Busby told the New Yorkers Smith in 1995. I worked hard to make Stevie see that we had his interests at heart. Stevie is what I call the crown jewel, the epitome. I wasnt looking at Stevie as an aging superstar but as an icon who could pull us into the future. Wonder himself seemed to share this sense of his eternal newness: Im going to be 45, he reflected to Ritz in Rolling Stone, but Im still feeling new and amazed by the world I live in. I was in the Hard Rock Cafe in Tokyo last week, and they started playing my records, and I started crying, crying like a little kid, thinking how God has blessed me with all these songs.

When Conversation Peace the album on which Wonder had been working for nearly eight yearswas released in 1995, it garnered a range of reactions. Vibe deemed it a decidedly mixed bag, leapfrogging back and forth between divine inspiration and inoffensive professionalism ; reviewer Tom Sinclair took particular exception to the cloying sentimentality of some of the songs, as did other critics. Entertainment Weekly praised the albums sound, but noted that the song selection here, while frisky, is thin, making this comeback small Wonder. Times Christopher John Farley, however, while allowing that the recording isnt a slam dunk, called it another winner for Wonder. Regardless of their respective verdicts, most reviewers concurred that Wonders versatility, passion, and chops remained intact.

Wonder proved the validity of these observations during his 1995 concert tour. Running 2 1/4 hours, it was an outstanding showfull of pure, old-fashioned R&B, declared Los Angeles Times writer Dennis Hunt of Wonders performance at the Universal Amphitheatre. Pondering the performers endurance and the disappearance of most of his contemporaries from the scene, Hunt observed, Some may point to exquisite taste as the key to Wonders success, but the real secret is his ability to stay current, to be fluent in the R&B style of the moment. Not surprisingly, critics were virtually unanimous about Wonders 1995 live double CD, Natural Wonder, which Rolling Stone called an important and revelatory statement.

Wonder expressed the desire to do an album of all praisethat is, gospelin his interview with Ritz. But regardless of the genre he pursues, his music will undoubtedly always reflect his undeniably compassionate spirituality. While he has inspired a new generation of artistsincluding rockers the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who made their bid for mainstream popularity with a version of Higher Ground, Lenny Kravitz, Michael Franti of Spearhead, and virtually every aspiring young soul artisthe nonetheless expressed his determination to keep growing. Youre influenced all the time, he asserted to New York Times writer Strauss, and the day that you cannot be influenced by anything good is the day that you really have let your art die.

Selected discography

On Motown, unless otherwise noted

Little Stevie Wonder: The Twelve-Year-Old Genius, 1963.

Recorded Live (includes Fingertips, Pt.2 ), 1963.

Uptight (includes Uptight), 1966.

Down to Earth, 1967.

I Was Made to Love Her (includes I Was Made to Love Her), 1967.

Stevie Wonders Greatest Hits, 1968.

For Once in My Life (includes For Once in My Life), 1969.

My Cherie Amour (includes My Chérie Amour), 1969.

Stevie Wonder Live, 1970.

Signed Sealed and Delivered (includes Signed Sealed Delivered [Im Yours]), 1970.

Where Im Coming From, 1971.

Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, 1972.

Music of My Mind, 1972.

Talking Book (includes You Are the Sunshine of My Life and Superstition), 1972.

Innervisions (includes Higher Ground), 1973.

Fulfillingness First Finale (includes Boogie on Reggae Woman), 1974.

Songs in the Key of Life (includes Sir Duke and I Wish), 1976.

Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, 1979.

Hotter Than July (includes Master Blaster [Jammin]), 1980.

Stevie Wonders Original Musiquarium (includes That Girl), 1982.

In Square Circle, 1985.

Characters, 1987.

Jungle Fever (soundtrack), 1992.

Conversation Peace, 1995.

Natural Wonder, 1995.

With others

Paul McCartney, Ebony and Ivory, Tug of War, Columbia, 1982.

Chaka Khan, I Feel for You, J Feel for You, Warner Bros., 1984.

The Woman in Red (soundtrack; includes I Just Called to Say I Love You), 1984.

Dionne Warwick, Thats What Friends Are For, 1986. (With Lenny Kravitz) Deuce, Kiss My Ass, 1995.

Stubborn Kind of Fellow, Inner City Blues: The Music of Marvin Gaye, Motown, 1995.

Quincy Jones, QsJook Joint, Qwest/Warner Bros., 1995.

Also contributed songs to albums by Rufus, Minnie Riperton, and other artists.

Sources

Books

Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, Billboard, 1991.

Periodicals

Entertainment Weekly, March 31, 1995, p. 61.

Jet, May 8, 1995, pp. 56-58; May 22, 1995.

Life, October 1986, pp. 67-74.

Los Angeles Times, January 16, 1995, p. Fl.

New Yorker, March 13, 1995, pp. 78-87.

New York Times, January 25, 1995, p. C15.

Rolling Stone, July 13, 1995, pp. 82-85, 126; January 25, 1996, p. 72.

Time, September 4, 1995, p. 76; April 10, 1995, p. 88.

Vibe, March 1995, pp. 97-98.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from Motown Records publicity materials, 1995.

Simon Glickman

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Glickman, Simon. "Wonder, Stevie 1950—." Contemporary Black Biography. 1996. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Sep. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Glickman, Simon. "Wonder, Stevie 1950—." Contemporary Black Biography. 1996. Encyclopedia.com. (September 25, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2871300072.html

Glickman, Simon. "Wonder, Stevie 1950—." Contemporary Black Biography. 1996. Retrieved September 25, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2871300072.html

Wonder, Stevie

Stevie Wonder

Singer, songwriter, producer, instrumentalist

In the course of following Stevie Wonder on his relentless travels, journalists have come to realize just how beloved an entertainer he is. "It dawned on me," wrote Giles Smith in the New Yorker, "that a substantial part of Stevie Wonder's public life consists of the voices of complete strangers telling him they love him." Rolling Stone's David Ritz had a similar opinion. "Following Stevie Wonder around New York is exhilarating work," he wrote. "I get the feeling that he loves being Stevie Wonder. He loves the attention, the adulation, the chance to perform." What's more, Ritz remarked, Wonder's "optimism is infectious." Such optimism may spring from a deep spiritual wellspring, but it has also been sustained by decades spent creating indelible and meaningful pop music.

It is thought that Wonder—born Stevland Judkins Morris on May 13, 1950, in Saginaw, Michigan—was blinded by a surfeit of oxygen in his incubator shortly after his premature birth. "I vaguely remember light and what my mother looks like," he ventured in a 1986 Life interview, "but I could be dreaming." His father left the family early on, and Wonder and his five siblings were raised by their mother. She moved the family to Detroit, where they struggled to survive. Though he has groused good-naturedly in adulthood about the limitations his sightlessness has placed on him, Wonder told Ritz that as a child he soothed his mother's tears by telling her that he "wasn't sad." He recalled, "I believed God had something for me to do." Along with his siblings, he paid musical tribute to the Almighty in the Whitestone Baptist Church choir, and besides singing, he demonstrated a gift for piano, harmonica, and drums by age 11.

Signed to Tamla

Thanks to the intercession of a friend, Stevland was brought to the attention of Berry Gordy, president of Detroit-based Motown Records, and Gordy's producer Brian Holland. Gordy placed the exceptional youngster's career in the hands of his associate Clarence Paul, whom he designated as Stevie's mentor. Handed the show business moniker "Little Stevie Wonder," the young artist was signed to the Motown offshoot label Tamla.

Wonder's fourth single, "Fingertips, Pt. 2," appeared in 1963 when he was 13, and became the first live performance of a song to reach the top of the U.S. pop charts. Also that year, Wonder became the first recording artist to reach the number one position on the Billboard Hot 100, R&B singles, and album charts simultaneously. Unable to attend a regular Detroit school, Wonder was sent to the Michigan School for the Blind at Motown's expense.

"Motown meant discipline to me," Wonder recalled to Ritz. "The attitude was ‘Do it until it can't be done any better.’" Under such demanding circumstances the young performer grew up fast. In 1964 he put aside the "Little" label and let fans focus on the Wonder; over the next few years he churned out pop-soul smashes like "Uptight," "Nothing's Too Good for My Baby," "I Was Made to Love Her," and "For Once in My Life." By 1968 his label had amassed enough chart-toppers to fill his first Greatest Hits album.

In 1969 Wonder met President Richard Nixon at the White House, where he received a Distinguished Service Award from the President's Committee on Employment of Handicapped People. Meanwhile he continued to pile up hits. "My Cherie Amour" sold over a million copies, and "Signed Sealed Delivered (I'm Yours)" vaulted up the charts. The year 1970 saw Wonder marry Syreeta Wright, a Motown employee and aspiring singer; the two wrote together and Wonder produced several successful records for her. The marriage was short-lived, however; they divorced in 1972. Wonder fathered children by three other women over the next couple of decades.

Free to Be His Best

When Wonder turned 21 in 1971 he was due the money he had earned as a minor (this arrangement had been stipulated in a previous agreement). But Motown only paid him one million of the $30 million he'd earned during that time. After considerable legal wrangling, he managed to attain a unique degree of artistic and financial autonomy. "At 21, Stevie was interested in being treated well and in controlling his life and in presenting his music," Johanan Vigoda, Wonder's longtime attorney, explained to Smith. "It wasn't the freedom to be dissolute or undisciplined. He wanted to be free so that he could bring the best of himself to the table."

What Wonder brought to the table—with the establishment of his own music publishing company and near-total creative freedom—was an increasingly sophisticated body of work that managed to fuse the high spirits of classic soul, the down-and-dirty syncopations of funk, exquisite melodies, and his own introspective and lyrical sensibility. From a sonic standpoint, too, he was a trailblazer, demonstrating the versatility of the synthesizer when it was still something of a novelty instrument in the R&B world.

Wonder's momentum was almost stopped permanently by a 1973 automobile accident that nearly claimed his life and left him with deep facial scars. If anything, however, this event provoked him to redouble his efforts. Virtually all of Wonder's work during the early to mid-1970s is essential pop, including his albums Talking Book, Innervisions, and the epic Songs in the Key of Life. His songs from this period left most of Wonder's competition in the dust, both artistically and commercially. "What artist in his right mind," singer-songwriter and soul icon Marvin Gaye asked Ritz, "wouldn't be intimidated by Stevie Wonder?"

For the Record …

Born Stevland Judkins Morris on May 13, 1950, in Saginaw, MI; son of Lulu Mae Morris; married Syreeta Wright (a singer), 1971 (divorced, 1972); married Karen Millard Morris; children: Aisha, Keita, Mumtaz, Kwame, Kailand, and Mandla.

Signed to Motown Records, 1963; founded Black Bull Music publishing company, 1971; sponsored Stevie Wonder Home for Blind and Retarded Children, 1976; founded Wondirection Records, 1982; contributed songs to The Woman in Red film soundtrack, 1984; appeared on AIDS benefit single "That's What Friends Are For," 1986; contributed songs to Jungle Fever film soundtrack, 1991; activist for and contributor to various political and social causes; recorded "How Come, How Long" with Babyface, 1996; released A Time to Love, 2005; performed for Super Bowl XL pre-game, 2006; announced 13-date tour, 2007.

Awards: Fifteen Grammy Awards; President's Committee on Employment of Handicapped People, Distinguished Service Award, 1969; Academy Award for best song, for "I Just Called to Say I Love You," 1985; inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1989; Children's Diabetes Foundation, Carousel of Hope Award, 1990; Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Honorary Global Founder's Award, 1990; Essence Magazine award, 1995; National Academy of Popular Music/Songwriters Hall of Fame, Johnny Mercer Award, 2004; Billboard Music Awards, Century Award, 2004; named Kennedy Center honoree, 2006; National Civil Rights Museum, Lifetime Achievement Award, 2006; (With Take 6) Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals, 2002; Grammy, Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals, for "So Amazing" (with Beyonce), 2005; Grammy, Best Male Vocal Performance, for "From the Bottom of My Heart," 2005; Grammy, Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals, for "For Once in My Life" (with Tony Bennett), 2007.

Addresses: Record company—Motown Records, 1350 Ave. of the Americas, 20th Fl., New York, NY 10019; 5750 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036.

The year 1979 saw the release of Wonder's musically beguiling Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants. "It was a consideration of the physical and spiritual relationships between human beings and plants," Wonder explained to Ritz, quipping that "some called it shrubbish." Though he increasingly failed to match his creative and sales peaks of the preceding decades, Wonder remained a giant presence in the world of pop. The love song "I Just Called to Say I Love You" won an Academy Award for Best Song and stands as Motown's top-selling single internationally, and his duet with ex-Beatle Paul McCartney on the anti-racism anthem "Ebony and Ivory" burned up the charts.

Over the years Wonder also became progressively more involved in politics, lobbying for gun control, against drunk driving and the apartheid system enforced by South Africa's white minority, and on behalf of a national holiday in recognition of civil rights activist the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He played a number of benefits and made public service announcements, often winning honors for his advocacy. The slogan underneath his picture on a poster for Mothers Against Drunk Driving read: "Before I ride with a drunk, I'll drive myself." He also contributed his labor to the Charge Against Hunger campaign organized by American Express.

Inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

In the late 1980s Wonder was less prolific than he had been in the past, but he was still phenomenally successful. He snagged a Grammy for 1986's In Square Circle, and in 1989 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He won plaudits for his work on the soundtrack to Spike Lee's 1991 film Jungle Fever, allegedly composing the material in the space of three weeks. "Movies are always a good challenge," he told Neil Strauss of the New York Times, "because it's taking what's happening visually and, even though I'm not able to see it, getting a sense of the movie and finding a new way to work with it." His work for the film preempted a collection of songs he'd been crafting while living in the African nation of Ghana, and the resulting disc would not hit stores for several years.

In 1992—by which time multimillion-dollar deals had become commonplace—Wonder had signed a unique lifetime pact with Motown. "This is a guy you don't ever want to see recording for anyone else," company president Jheryl Busby told Smith. "I worked hard to make Stevie see that we had his interests at heart. … I wasn't looking at Stevie as an aging superstar but as an icon who could pull us into the future." Wonder himself seemed to share this sentiment, telling Ritz, "I'm still feeling new and amazed by the world I live in."

When Conversation Peace—the album on which Wonder had been working for nearly eight years—was released in 1995, it garnered a range of reactions. Vibe deemed it "a decidedly mixed bag, leapfrogging back and forth between divine inspiration and inoffensive professionalism"; reviewer Tom Sinclair took particular exception to the "cloying sentimentality" of some of the songs, as did other critics. Entertainment Weekly praised the album's sound but noted that "the song selection here, while frisky, is thin, making this comeback small Wonder." Time's Christopher John Farley, however, while allowing that the recording "isn't a slam dunk," called it "another winner for Wonder." Regardless of their respective verdicts, most reviewers concurred that Wonder's versatility and talent remained intact.

Wonder proved the validity of these observations during his 1995 concert tour. "It was an outstanding show—full of pure, old-fashioned R&B," declared Los Angeles Times writer Dennis Hunt, of Wonder's performance at the Universal Amphitheatre. Pondering the performer's long career and ability to outlast most of his contemporaries, Hunt observed, "Some may point to exquisite taste as the key to Wonder's success, but the real secret is his ability to stay current, to be fluent in the R&B style of the moment." Critics were virtually unanimous about Wonder's 1995 live double CD Natural Wonder, which Rolling Stone called "an important and revelatory statement."

Inspiration to a New Generation

Regardless of the genre he pursues, Wonder's music will undoubtedly always reflect his undeniably compassionate spirituality. He has inspired a new generation of artists, including rockers the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who made their bid for mainstream popularity with a version of "Higher Ground," Lenny Kravitz, Michael Franti of Spearhead, and virtually every aspiring young soul artist. And he has expressed his determination to keep growing. "You're influenced all the time," he asserted to Strauss, "and the day that you cannot be influenced by anything good is the day that you really have let your art die."

Although Wonder's Conversation Peace (1995) sold poorly, he won two Grammys with his single "For Your Love." His long string of accomplishments received renewed attention when Coolio used "Pastime Paradise" (from Songs in the Key of Life) in "Gangsta's Paradise" in 1996. Wonder then recorded "How Come, How Long" with Babyface, and the song placed on Billboard's Rhythmic Top 40 and the Top 40 Mainstream charts. Also in 1996, Songs in the Key of Life was chosen as a subject for the Classic Albums documentary series.

In the fall of 2005, Wonder released A Time to Love, his first album in ten years. Asked at a British press conference why he had taken ten years, Wonder replied: "Obviously, I wasn't working on A Time to Love for ten years," he told Contact Music. "I was doing life." Critics responded warmly to the album, comparing it to his classic work in the 1970s. "Through exploration and balance," wrote Rob Theakst in All Music Guide, "A Time to Love finds the two halves of Wonder's adult career finally coming to home to roost in peaceful harmony with one another, and it's one of the finest records he has done in decades." Two singles from the album, "Shelter in the Rain" and "From the Bottom of My Heart" charted, and the latter won a Grammy in 2006. One track, "So What the Fuss," included a guitar solo by Prince.

In 2006 Wonder performed at the Super Bowl XL pre-game, including a duet of the "Star Spangled Banner" with Aretha Franklin. He also made an appearance on a special episode of American Idol that featured performances of his songs. Wonder met with the contestants, offered advice, and sang "My Love Is on Fire" live on the program. He also appeared as a guest on Busta Rhymes's The Big Bang in 2006. Wonder won a Grammy Award for his collaboration with Tony Bennett on "For Once in my Life." In the summer of 2007 Wonder planned a 13-date tour, "A Wonder Summer's Night," his first concert series in ten years.

Selected discography

Little Stevie Wonder: The Twelve-Year-Old Genius, Motown, 1963.

Recorded Live, Motown, 1963.

Uptight, Motown, 1966.

Down to Earth, Motown, 1967.

I Was Made to Love Her, Motown, Motown, 1967.

Stevie Wonder's Greatest Hits, Motown, 1968.

For Once in My Life, Motown, 1969.

My Cherie Amour, Motown, 1969.

Stevie Wonder Live, Motown, 1970.

Signed Sealed and Delivered, Motown, 1970.

Where I'm Coming From, Motown, 1971.

Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, Motown, 1972.

Music of My Mind, Motown, 1972.

Talking Book, Motown, 1972.

Innervisions, Motown, 1973.

Fulfillingness' First Finale, Motown, 1974.

Songs in the Key of Life Motown, 1976.

Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, Motown, 1979.

Hotter Than July, Motown, 1980.

Stevie Wonder's Original Musiquarium, Motown, 1982.

In Square Circle, Motown, 1985.

Characters, Motown, 1987.

Jungle Fever (soundtrack), Motown, 1992.

Conversation Peace, Motown, 1995.

Natural Wonder, Motown, 1995.

A Time to Love, Motown, 2005.

With Others

(With Paul McCartney) "Ebony and Ivory," Tug of War, Columbia, 1982.

Chaka Khan, "I Feel for You," I Feel for You, Warner Bros., 1984.

The Woman in Red, Motown, 1984.

Dionne Warwick, "That's What Friends Are For," Motown, 1986.

(With Lenny Kravitz) "Deuce," Kiss My Ass, Motown, 1995.

"Stubborn Kind of Fellow," Inner City Blues: The Music of Marvin Gaye, Motown, 1995.

Quincy Jones, Q's Jook Joint, Qwest/Warner Bros., 1995.

Also contributed songs to albums by Rufus, Minnie Riperton, and other artists.

Sources

Books

Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, Billboard, 1991.

Periodicals

Entertainment Weekly, March 31, 1995, p. 61.

Jet, May 8, 1995, pp. 56-58; May 22, 1995.

Life, October 1986, pp. 67-74.

Los Angeles Times, January 16, 1995, p. F1.

New Yorker, March 13, 1995, pp. 78-87.

New York Times, January 25, 1995, p. C15.

Rolling Stone, July 13, 1995, pp. 82-85, 126; January 25, 1996, p. 72.

Time, September 4, 1995, p. 76; April 10, 1995, p. 88.

Vibe, March 1995, pp. 97-98.

Online

"Stevie Wonder," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (August 31, 2007).

"Stevie Wonder," Contact Music,http://www.contactmusic.com (August 31, 2007).

Additional information for this profile was obtained from Motown Records publicity materials, 1995.

—Simon Glickman and Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.

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Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder (born 1950) is one of the most cherished rhythm-and-blues singers and songwriters of his generation. The 19-time Grammy winner is known for his soulful voice and catchy tunes as well as for his commitment to political and humanitarian causes.

In the course of following Stevie Wonder on his relentless travels, journalists have come to realize just how beloved an entertainer he is. "It dawned on me," wrote Giles Smith in the New Yorker, "that a substantial part of Stevie Wonder's public life consists of the voices of complete strangers telling him they love him." Rolling Stone's David Ritz had a similar opinion. "Following Stevie Wonder around New York is exhilarating work," he wrote. "I get the feeling that he loves being Stevie Wonder. He loves the attention, the adulation, the chance to perform." Ritz also remarked that Wonder's "optimism is infectious."

It is believed that Wonder, born Stevland Judkins Morris in Saginaw, Michigan on May 13, 1950, was blinded due to an overabundance of oxygen in his incubator shortly after his premature birth. "I vaguely remember light and what my mother looks like," he said in a 1986 Life interview, "but I could be dreaming." His father left the family early on. He and his five siblings were raised by their mother. She moved the family to Detroit, where they struggled to survive. Though he has spoken good-naturedly in adulthood about the limitations of his blindness, Wonder told Ritz that as a child he soothed his mother's tears by telling her that he "wasn't sad." He recalled, "I believed God had something for me to do." Along with his siblings, Wonder sang in the Whitestone Baptist Church choir and demonstrated a gift for playing the piano, harmonica, and drums by age eleven.

Thanks to the intercession of a friend, Wonder was introduced to Berry Gordy, president of Detroit-based Motown Records, and Gordy's producer Brian Holland. Gordy placed the exceptional youngster's career in the hands of his associate Clarence Paul, whom he designated as Wonder's mentor. Gordy told Paul, according to Ritz, that his job was to "bring out his genius. This boy can give us hits." Handed the show business moniker "Little Stevie Wonder," the prodigious adolescent-signed to the Motown offshoot label Tamla-did indeed yield hits.

Motown Encouraged Discipline

Wonder's fourth single, "Fingertips Part 2," appeared in 1963 and became the first live performance of a song to reach the top of the U.S. pop chart. Also that year, Wonder became the first recording artist to reach the number one position on the Billboard Hot 100 and Rhythm & Blues singles charts simultaneously. Unable to attend a regular Detroit school because of his schedule, Wonder was sent to the Michigan School for the Blind at Motown's expense.

"Motown meant discipline to me," Wonder recalled to Ritz. "The attitude was 'Do it over. Do it differently. Do it until it can't be done any better."' Under such demanding circumstances the young performer grew up fast and he put aside the "little" label in 1964. Over the next few years he churned out hits like "Uptight," "Nothing's Too Good for My Baby," "I Was Made to Love Her," and "For Once in My Life." By 1968, his label had amassed enough chart-toppers to fill his first greatest hits album.

In 1969, Wonder met President Richard Nixon at the White House, where he received a Distinguished Service Award from the President's Committee on Employment of Handicapped People. Meanwhile, he continued to produce hits like "My Cherie Amour," which sold over a million copies, and "Signed Sealed Delivered (I'm Yours)." In 1970, Wonder married Syreeta Wright, a Motown employee and aspiring singer; the two wrote together, and Wonder produced several successful records for her. The marriage was short-lived, however; they divorced in 1972. Wright has said that Wonder's music was her chief rival. "He would wake up and go straight to the keyboard," she recalled in a New Yorker interview. "I knew and understood that his passion was music. That was really his No. 1 wife." Wonder fathered children by three other women over the next couple of decades, though he did not remarry. "I was at the birth of two of my children," he confided in Life. "I felt them being born-it was amazing."

When Wonder turned 21, he was due the money he had earned as a minor through an arrangement stipulated in a previous agreement. But Motown only paid him $1 million of the $30 million he had earned during that time. After considerable legal wrangling he managed to attain a unique degree of artistic and financial autonomy. "At 21, Stevie was interested in being treated well and in controlling his life and in presenting his music, and all those things were extraordinary things for a young man to ask at that point," explained Johanan Vigoda, Wonder's long-time attorney, in the New Yorker. "It wasn't the freedom to be dissolute or undisciplined. He wanted to be free so that he could bring the best of himself to the table."

What Wonder brought to the table-with the establishment of his own music publishing company and near-total creative freedom-was an increasingly sophisticated body of work that managed to fuse the high spirits of classic soul, the syncopations of funk, exquisite melodies, and his own introspective and increasingly politicized lyrics. He demonstrated the versatility of the synthesizer when it was still something of a novelty in the rhythm & blues world.

Accident Redoubled Commitment

Wonder's momentum was almost stopped permanently by a 1973 automobile accident that nearly claimed his life and left him with deep facial scars. If anything, however, this event caused him to become more focused. Virtually all of Wonder's work during the early to mid-1970s was essentially pop, most notably his albums Talking Book, Innervisions, Fulfillingness' First Finale, and the epic Songs in the Key of Life. His songs from that period, including "Superstition" and "Higher Ground," "Boogie on Reggae Woman," "Sir Duke," "I Wish," and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," were unrivaled both artistically and commercially. "What artist in his right mind," mused singer-songwriter and soul icon Marvin Gaye to Rolling Stone's Ritz, "wouldn't be intimidated by Stevie Wonder?"

In 1979, Wonder released Journey through the Secret Life of Plants, the theme of which many listeners found eccentric. "It was a consideration of the physical and spiritual relationships between human beings and plants,"Wonder explained to Ritz, quipping that "some called it shrubbish." Though he increasingly failed to match the sales peaks of the preceding decades, Wonder was still a giant presence in the world of pop. His Hotter Than July, with its reggae-driven hit "Master Blaster (Jammin')," indicated his continuing creative restlessness. "That Girl," his love song "I Just Called to Say I Love You"-which won an Academy Award for best song and stands as Motown's top-selling single internationally-and his duet with ex-Beatle Paul McCartney on the anti-racism anthem "Ebony and Ivory," all achieved great success.

Delved Into Politics and Charity Work

Over the years Wonder became progressively more involved in politics, lobbying for gun control, against drunk driving, against the apartheid system enforced by South Africa's white minority, and on behalf of a national holiday in recognition of civil rights martyr Martin Luther King, Jr. He played a number of benefits and made public service announcements, often winning honors for his advocacy. The slogan under his picture on a poster for Mothers Against Drunk Driving read: "Before I ride with a drunk, I'll drive myself." He also contributed his labor to the Charge Against Hunger campaign organized by American Express.

Wonder was less musically prolific in the 1980s, but still achieved a great amount of success. He won a Grammy for In Square Circle in 1986 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. He won praise for his work on the soundtrack to Spike Lee's 1991 film Jungle Fever. It was said that Wonder composed the material in just three weeks. "Movies are always a good challenge," he told Neil Strauss of the New York Times, "because it's taking what's happening visually and, even though I'm not able to see it, getting a sense of the movie and finding a new way to work with it." His work for Jungle Fever preempted the release of a collection of songs he had been crafting while living in the African nation of Ghana; the resulting disc did not hit stores for several years.

In 1992, Wonder signed a unique lifetime pact with Motown. "This is a guy you don't ever want to see recording for anyone else," company president Jheryl Busby told the New Yorker in 1995. "I worked hard to make Stevie see that we had his interests at heart. Stevie is what I call the crown jewel, the epitome. I wasn't looking at Stevie as an aging superstar but as an icon who could pull us into the future." Wonder himself seemed to share this sense of his eternal newness: "I'm going to be 45," he reflected to Ritz, "but I'm still feeling new and amazed by the world I live in. I was in the Hard Rock Cafe in Tokyo last week, and they started playing my records, and I started crying, crying like a little kid, thinking how God has blessed me with all these songs."

Conversation Peace Met with Mixed Reactions

When Conversation Peace-the album on which Wonder had been working for nearly eight years-was released in 1995, it garnered a range of reactions. Vibe deemed it "a decidedly mixed bag, leapfrogging back and forth between divine inspiration and inoffensive professionalism." Reviewer Tom Sinclair took particular exception to the "cloying sentimentality" of some of the songs, as did other critics. Entertainment Weekly praised the album's sound, but noted that "the song selection here, while frisky, is thin, making this comeback small Wonder." Time's Christopher John Farley, however, while allowing that the recording "isn't a slam dunk," called it "another winner for Wonder." In 1996, Wonder added two more Grammy Awards to his extensive collection, receiving another best male rhythm & blues vocal performance honor and one for best rhythm & blues song for the tune "For Your Love" off of Conversation. In addition, he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award that year.

Wonder's 1995 concert tour garnered acclaim. "Running 2 1/4 hours, it was an outstanding show-full of pure, old-fashioned R & B," declared Los Angeles Times writer Dennis Hunt of Wonder's performance at the Universal Amphitheatre. Pondering the performer's endurance and the disappearance of most of his contemporaries from the scene, Hunt observed, "Some may point to exquisite taste as the key to Wonder's success, but the real secret is his ability to stay current, to be fluent in the R & B style of the moment." Not surprisingly, critics were virtually unanimous about Wonder's 1995 live double CD, Natural Wonder, which Rolling Stone called "an important and revelatory statement."

Wonder remained in the limelight, performing at a White House dinner for Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain in February of 1998, and appearing as a White House guest later that year. Also in 1998 he performed on the soundtrack of the animated Disney film Mulan. In January 1999, Wonder provided a dazzling halftime show during the Super Bowl. He was awarded yet another Grammy in 1999-his nineteenth-for best male rhythm & blues vocalist. In addition, he continued his humanitarian work, establishing along with German firm SAP, the SAP/Stevie Wonder Vision Awards. These awards recognized efforts to aid blind people in the workplace.

Wonder has continued his songwriting between other projects, and has expressed the desire to do a gospel album. But regardless of the genre he pursues, his music will undoubtedly reflect his spirituality. He has inspired a new generation of artists, including rock group the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who made their bid for mainstream popularity with a version of "Higher Ground," Lenny Kravitz and Michael Franti of Spearhead. However, he nonetheless expressed his determination to keep growing. "You're influenced all the time," he said in the New York Times, "and the day that you cannot be influenced by anything good is the day that you really have let your art die."

Further Reading

Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, Billboard, 1991.

Entertainment Weekly, March 31, 1995.

Jet, May 8, 1995; May 22, 1995; March 16, 1998; February 23, 1998.

Life, October 1986.

Los Angeles Times, January 16, 1995.

New Yorker, March 13, 1995.

Rolling Stone, July 13, 1995; January 25, 1996

Time, September 4, 1995; April 10, 1996; June 22, 1998; June 29, 1998.

Vibe, March 1995. □

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"Stevie Wonder." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Sep. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Wonder, Stevie

STEVIE WONDER

Born: Steveland Hardaway Judkins, Saginaw, Michigan, 13 May 1950

Genre: R&B, Pop

Best-selling album since 1990: Jungle Fever (1991)

Hit songs since 1990: "Gotta Have You," "These Three Words," "Fun Day"


Although the music of Stevie Wonder spans five decades and many different styles, it is unified by his far-reaching artistic vision. Wonder helped to pioneer the role of the visionary pop musician who oversees each aspect of the recording process, from songwriting to instrumentation to final production. His slightly nasal vocal style, with its sudden flights into his upper register, has influenced scores of younger rhythm-and-blues performers, from Michael Jackson to Usher. With each passing decade Wonder has continued experimenting, keeping his sound fresh while staying true to his roots.

Born in Saginaw, Michigan, and raised in the music-rich city of Detroit, Wonder has been blind since birth, the result of an accident in his incubator as a newborn. Encouraged by his doting mother Lula, Wonder was a musical prodigy by the age of nine, proficient on piano, drums, and harmonica. At age twelve he had his first rhythm-and-blues hit on Detroit-based Motown Records, "Fingertips" (1963), a driving song that highlights his harmonica playing. Wonder went on to have many hits on Motown's Tamla subsidiary as the 1960s progressed, recording in a wide array of styles, from tough rhythm and blues to sophisticated pop ballads arranged with strings.

In the 1970s Wonder took stronger control of his music and career, releasing a series of innovative, deeply personal albums that touched on themes of racism, inner-city despair, and spirituality. Talking Book (1972) and Innervisions (1973) are classics of this period, albums in which Wonder made pioneering strides with a new musical instrument, the synthesizer. For all his concern with social issues, Wonder also created some of the funkiest grooves of the 1970s on hits such as "Superstition" and "Boogie On, Reggae Woman." After Hotter Than July (1980), a joyous album featuring the celebratory single, "Master Blaster (Jammin')," Wonder's output grew less artistically consistent. Singles like "Part-Time Lover" (1985), although radio-friendly, were too reliant on simple melodic hooks to be artistically satisfying.

Wonder regained solid artistic footing with Jungle Fever (1991), a soundtrack album for a film by director Spike Lee about interracial dating. The sweet-sounding ballad "These Three Words" stressed the importance of human relationships. On lines such as "the ones you say you cherish every day / can instantly be taken away," Wonder evinces an awareness of mortality that, in its seriousness of purpose, distinguishes it from the simpler, lighthearted work of 1980s and 1990s balladeers such as Lionel Richie. The easygoing, jazzy rhythm of "Fun Day" points to one of Wonder's major artistic strengths: assimilating other musical genresclassical, jazz, gospelinto his work. Similarly, on the sophisticated ballad "Make Sure You're Sure," Wonder improvises with his vocal phrasing in the manner of a jazz singer. The haunting string arrangement only adds to the song's classy appeal. "Queen of the Black," in which Wonder belts out the lyrics at the top of his range, spotlights his undiminished vocal prowess. On the biting title track, "Jungle Fever," he takes on the prejudice faced by an interracial couple: "she can't love me, I can't love her / Cause they say we're the wrong color."

Wonder's only other studio album of the 1990s, Conversation Peace (1995), was another satisfying work, again informed by his encompassing vision. Over the decades Wonder has successfully adapted to changing styles in rhythm and blues music, and on Conversation Peace he incorporates jumpy hip-hop rhythms without any sign of artistic strain. The album's finest moment, "Cold Chill," ranks with the most creative music of Wonder's career. Featuring a choppy female chorus arranged to sound like twittering birds, "Cold Chill" is more than a funky hip-hop track, it is an aural experience in which sound amplifies the imagery of the lyrics: "there's a cold chill on a summer night." In his review of the album, the rock critic Robert Christgau reflected upon Wonder's ability to construct total soundscapes within his songs: "Overlaying track after track in his studio, he's a font of melody, a wellspring of rhythm, a major modern composer."

Speaking to Grammy magazine in 1997, Wonder discussed the artistic process behind his work: "You just have to go through different experiences. . . . When I hear about a plane crash I'm there in the plane. . . . I'm imagining how it felt going down, I'm imagining what was going through the mind, I'm imagining all the different tears." Wonder's capacity for human empathy brings a social dimension to his songs, several of which have been used as vehicles for change. His 1980 recording, "Happy Birthday," was a tribute to legendary civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.; Wonder's lobbying helped lead to the official recognition of King's birthday as a national holiday. On the title track to Conversation Peace, Wonder again advocates social awareness and activism: "We shouldn't act as if we don't hear nor see / Like the holocaust of 6 million Jews and / A hundred and fifty million blacks during slavery." During the 1980s and 1990s Wonder lent his support to causes including the antiapartheid struggle, AIDS awareness, handgun control, and the fight against world hunger. In 1999 he received the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors, cementing his reputation as an American institution.

Stevie Wonder's influence can be felt in the work of younger artists such as Prince and Maxwell, performers who took Wonder's lead and exerted artistic control over the production of their music. He was one of the first artists to expand the traditional love-song themes of rhythm and blues to include social commentary and personal reflection, singing of love and justice in his clear, distinctively high-pitched voice. In the 1990s he dug deeper into the grooves he had created in the seventies, inserting contemporary elements into his music without losing its relevance or integrity.

SELECTIVE DISCOGRAPHY:

The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie (Tamla, 1962); I Was Made to Love Her (Tamla, 1967); Music of My Mind (Tamla, 1972); Talking Book (Tamla, 1972); Innervisions (Tamla, 1973); Songs in the Key of Life (Tamla, 1976); Hotter Than July (Tamla, 1980); Jungle Fever (Motown, 1991); Conversation Peace (Motown, 1995).

WEBSITE:

www.stevie-wonder.com.

david freeland

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Wonder, Stevie

Wonder, Stevie (1950– ) US soul singer and songwriter, b. Steveland Judkins Morris. Blind from birth, Wonder was a precocious polymath, playing the harmonica, keyboard, guitar, and drums. In 1961, he joined Motown Records. His first album, Little Stevie Wonder: A 12-year-old Musical Genius, was an instant hit. Consistently successful, his albums include Talking Book (1972), Innervisions (1973), Songs in the Key of Life (1976), and Hotter Than July (1980).

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Wonder, Stevie

Stevie Wonder

Singer, songwriter, keyboardist

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

Stevie Wonder has been called the crown prince of pop music since the late 1960s, when he began to produce hit after hit with staggering rapidity. Blind since birth, Wonder has directed an immense inner vision toward innovative music; to quote New York Times Magazine contributor Jack Slater, Wonders work explores several layers of experiencemusic which addresses itself not only to ones romantic needs but to racial grief, urban defeat, religious experience, as well as to such conundrums as transcendental perception. A Time magazine correspondent likewise notes that Wonder has distilled a wide array of black and white musical styles into a hugely popular personal idiom that emphatically defines where pop is at right now. As a result, Wonder has become what the trade calls a monster, a star who can automatically fill any arena or stadium and whose records, both in the stores and on radio, transcend musical categories in their appeal.

Wonder was a genuine child prodigy by virtue of his musical ability and his sheer desire to succeed. Signed to a Motown Records contract at thirteen, he had his first top ten single, Fingertips Part 2, before he began to attend high school. Since then, he has literally never been out of the limelight, and his fame is such that he is asked to lend his name to a variety of social causes. The Time reporter observes that Wonder has managed the considerable task of establishing himself as both a hot commercial property and an authentic voice. Being black, blind, and up from poverty entitles him, of course, to say that he has been there and back. In down beat magazine, W. A. Brower writes that Wonder has become a world-class moral forcea heroin a time when the personal villainy of television anti-heroes is celebrated, poverty is glibly rationalized, and the ghastly spectre of controlled nuclear holocaust darkens our future.

Wonder was born Stevland Judkins in Saginaw, Michigan. His birth was four weeks premature, and doctors believe the pure oxygen used in the infant incubator robbed him of his sight. Having never had his vision, Wonder did not suffer the loss of it. He claims that he had a happy childhoodwith some restrictionsin Saginaw and Detroit, where his family lived in upper-lower-class circumstances. Not surprisingly, Wonder gravitated to music at a very early age. At two he began pounding tin pans with spoons in rhythm with radio songs, and at four he learned to play the piano, harmonica, and drums. Wonder also liked to sing, and he was a featured soloist at Detroits Whitestone Baptist Church until one of the parishioners caught him playing rock and roll music with his friends in the streets.

Young Stevland Morris (his mother had remarried) began hanging around the fledgling Motown studio

For the Record

Name originally Stevland Judkins Morris; born May 13, 1950, in Saginaw, Mich.; son of Lula Mae Morris; married Syreeta Wright, 1971 (divorced, 1972); children: Aisha, Keita, Mumtaz. Education: High school graduate from Michigan School for the Blind.

Singer-pianist-songwriter, 1963. Signed as Little Stevie Wonder with Motown Records, 1963, had first hit, Fingertips, Part 2, 1963; founder and president of Black Bull Music, Inc., 1970, and WondirectionRecords, Inc., 1982. Participant in numerous social projects, including creation of Martin Luther King Day national holiday, AIDS awareness, anti-Apartheid demonstrations, and campaigns against drunk driving.

Awards: Recipient of more than fifteen Grammy Awards, including awards for best male vocalist in both pop and rhythm and blues categories, best pop song, and best album. Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, 1982. Academy Award for best song, 1984, for I Just Called To Say I Love You.

Addresses: Office Black Bull Record Company, 4616 Magnolia Blvd. Burbank, Calif. 91505.

when he was ten. He played the various Motown instruments and even wrote some songs, earning himself the nickname little boy wonder. At thirteen he signed an exclusive contract with Motown and was given the name Little Stevie Wonder by Motown president Berry Gordy. In 1963 the teenaged performer had his first chart-topping hit with the rousing Fingertips Part 2, a Motown-generated tune that allowed Wonder to sing and to play the harmonica. Thereafter, Little Stevie Wonder travelled with the Motown family of entertainers, taking private tutoring and attending high school at the Michigan School for the Blind between engagements.

Stevie Wonder dropped the little adjective from his name as soon as he could. Between 1963 and 1969 he recorded a number of hits, including Uptight, I Was Made To Love Her, For Once in My Life, and My Chérie Amour. All through the period, Wonder was held in tight control by the Motown management. His songs were chosen for him, his money was managed for him, and almost all important career decisions were made for him. Brower writes: The Little Stevie years werefull of entertaining but innocuous stuff: juvenile music. Yet the special quality of his voice was unmistakable. Its charisma was like the Midas touch turning even brass to gold, foreshadowing great communicative power and aching for material equal to its potential. When Wonder turned twenty-one, he rebelled against the Motown system, calling for complete creative control of his work. Eventually he ironed out a contract that allowed Motown to distribute whatever albums he cared to produce. I had gone about as far as I could go, he said of his Motown experience in Stereo Review. I wasnt growing; I just kept repeating the Stevie Wonder Sound, and it didnt express how I felt about what was happening in the world. I decided to go for something else besides a winning formula: I wanted to see what would happen if I changed.

As creative master of his work, Wonder did indeed change. His songs challenged social conditions, celebrated religious ecstasy, and revealed his most personal joys. According to Brower, Wonders maturing music reached beyond infectious yet puerile reverie to the level of art and deeper meaning. Perhaps because his own maturation was so literally entwined with the development of soul music, he was eager and able to incorporate the broader issues of his life and his time into music as few others in the genre have. That this point of view was vested in such a uniquely well-rounded artistsinger, multi-instrumentalist, recording artist, lyricist, composer, arranger, producermade his creative thrust all the more powerful.

Every album Wonder released in the 1970s went platinum in sales, and every one produced at least one hit single. These hits varied immensely in style and substance, from the grim Superstition and Living for the City to the playful Dont You Worry bout a Thing, Isnt She Lovely? and You Are the Sunshine of My Life. By 1979 Wonder had won fourteen Grammy Awards and was well on the way to selling seventy million records. Even more astonishing is the fact that Wonder often produced his songs entirely by himself, providing all the background music, writing the tune and lyrics, singing, and arranging. He became one of the first artists to make extensive use of electronic synthesizers, computers, and advanced keyboard technology, and he became renowned for carrying a tape machine at all times in order to record his ideas immediately. Brower writes: The studio had become an instrument for the self-actualization of his personal vision. He proved himself able to get much more than intriguing and atmospheric textural settings out of his electro-synthetic musical arsenal: he was able to make his instruments sing with both melodic poignance and sweetness. Wonder emerged from the 1970s one of the favorite recording stars of any audience under the age of fifty.

Wonders creative output has slackened in the 1980s, but his popularity has not waned at all. Indeed, as a spokesman for important social causes, he has done more than any other musician to change American attitudes. He was an outspoken proponent of the creation of a national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, and his poster against drunk driving I Would Drive Myself before I Would Ride with a Drunken Driver was posted in schools across the nation. He also recorded a song with Dionne Warwick, called Thats What Friends Are For, that benefitted AIDS research. In 1984 he released a pleasant tune, I Just Called To Say I Love You, that won the prestigious Academy Award for best song of the year. Still a young manjust nearing fortyWonder continues to pack arenas of every size with fans of every race and creed. A Newsweek correspondent concludes that the star stands alone among rock composers in the range of his creativity.

Wonder told Stereo Review how he likes to work. Theres so much music in the air, he said. You hear this music in your mind first; thats the way it is for me, anyway. Then I go after getting it exactly the way I imagined it. If it doesnt come out the way it is in my mind, it has to come out either better than that or equivalent to it. If its in a different fashion, its got to be just as good. Wonder is a near-teetotaler who never touches drugs; his well-known head-swaying is a blindism a release of energy that others release through vision. The father of three children, he has been musically inspired more than once by paternal love. Brower concludes that whatever Stevie Wonder does, one hopes he continues to represent the possibility of the fulfilled life, the power of self-determinationmerging what one does for daily bread, with what one enjoys, and sees as ones responsibility.

Selected discography

Little Stevie Wonder: The Twelve-Year-Old Genius, Motown, 1963.

Tribute to Uncle Ray, Motown, 1963.

Jazz Soul of Little Steve, Motown, 1963.

With a Song in My Heart, Motown, 1964.

At the Beach (Hey Mr. Harmonica Man), Motown, 1965.

Uptight, Motown, 1966.

Down to Earth, Motown, 1966.

I Was Made To Love Her, Motown, 1967.

Stevie Wonders Greatest Hits, Motown, 1968.

Someday at Christmas, Motown, 1969.

For Once in My Life, Motown, 1969.

Elvets Red now, Motown, 1969.

My Chérie Amour, Motown, 1970.

Stevie Wonder Live, Motown, 1970.

Talk of the Town, Motown, 1970.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered, Motown, 1970.

Where Im Coming From, Motown, 1971.

Stevie Wonders Greatest Hits, Volume 2, Motown, 1972.

Music of My Mind, Motown, 1972.

Talking Book, Motown, 1972.

Innervisions, Motown, 1973.

Fulfillingness First Finale, Motown, 1974.

Songs in the Key of Life, Motown, 1976.

Portrait, EMI, 1976.

Journey through the Secret Life of Plants, Motown, 1979.

The Woman in Red, Motown, 1984.

In Square Circle, Motown, 1985.

Hotter Than July, Motown, 1986.

Characters, Motown, 1987.

Sources

Books

Stambler, Irwin, Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul, St. Martins, 1974.

Periodicals

down beat, May, 1981.

Esquire, April, 1974.

Newsweek, October 4, 1976.

New York Times Magazine, February 23, 1975.

People, March 3, 1986.

Rolling Stone, April 10, 1986; November 5-December 10, 1987.

Stereo Review, May, 1980.

Time, April 8, 1974.

Anne Janette Johnson

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Johnson, Anne. "Wonder, Stevie." Contemporary Musicians. 1990. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Sep. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

Johnson, Anne. "Wonder, Stevie." Contemporary Musicians. 1990. Encyclopedia.com. (September 25, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3492000094.html

Johnson, Anne. "Wonder, Stevie." Contemporary Musicians. 1990. Retrieved September 25, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3492000094.html

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