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Wonder, Stevie (Morris, Stevland)

May 13, 1950


Born Stevland Morris on May 13, 1950, in Saginaw, Michigan, singer and songwriter Stevie Wonder has been blind since birth. He grew up in Detroit and by the age of nine had mastered the harmonica, drums, bongos, and piano. His early influences included rhythm-and-blues artists B. B. King and Ray Charles. Once his youthful talent as a musician and composer was discerned, Berry Gordy signed him to Hitsville, U.S.A. (later known as Motown) in 1961. He was soon dubbed "Little Stevie Wonder" and in 1963 achieved the first of many number one pop singles with "FingertipsPt. 2," a live recording featuring bluesflavored harmonica solos. The album of the same year, Twelve-Year-Old Genius, was Motown's first number one pop album. From 1964 to 1971 Wonder had several top twenty hits, including "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" (1966), "Mon Cherie Amour" (1969), and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" (1970), cowritten with Syreeta Wright, to whom he was married for eighteen months.

In 1971 at the age of twenty-one, Wonder obtained a release from his Motown contract that allowed him to break free of the strict Motown production sound. With his substantial earnings he employed the latest electronic technology, the ARP and Moog synthesizers, to record original material for future use, playing most of the instruments himself. That same year he negotiated a new contract with Motown for complete artistic control over his career and production. The album Music in My Mind that followed was the first fruit of his new artistic freedom. In 1975 he renegotiated with Motown for an unprecedented $13 million advance for a seven-year contract.

Wonder's humanitarian interests have charged his music since the early 1970s. His material has consistently reflected an effort to incorporate contemporary musical trends (reggae and rap) and social commentary that has given a voice to the evolution of American black consciousness. This is demonstrated in "Living for the City" (1973), a ghetto-dweller's narrative; "Happy Birthday" (1980), the anthem for a nationwide appeal to honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a national holiday; "Don't Drive Drunk" (1984); and "It's Wrong," (1985), a critique of South African apartheid. He also supported such causes as the elimination of world hunger (U.S.A. for Africa's recording "We Are the World"), AIDS research ("That's What Friends Are For" with singer Dionne Warwick and friends, 1987), and cancer research.

Wonder's popularity has been strengthened by his scores for various films, including The Woman in Red (1984), which won an Oscar for Best Original Song ("I Just Called to Say I Love You") and Jungle Fever (1991), a film about interracial relationships by Spike Lee. Wonder has been the recipient of more than eighteen Grammys, eighteen gold records, five platinum records, and five gold albums. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1982. In 1996 he won a Lifetime Achievement Award and two Grammies for his album Conversation Peace. In 2004 he received the Johnny Mercer Award from the National Academy of Popular Music/Songwriters Hall of Fame, he released the album Time 2 Love, and he won the Century Award at the Billboard Music Awards.

See also Rhythm and Blues

Bibliography

Hardy, Phil, and Dave Laing. The Faber Companion to Twentieth-Century Popular Music. London: Faber, 1990.

Horn, Martin E. Stevie Wonder: Career of a Rock Legend. New York: Barclay House, 1999.

"Stevie Wonder." Current Biography. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1975.

kyra d. gaunt (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005

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Wonder, Stevie (Morris, Stevland)

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