February 17, 2021
Stevie Wonder has had a unique career as a singer, composer, instrumentalist, performer and humanitarian. After his early years with Motown, who signed him up as ‘Little Stevie Wonder’ aged eleven, he gradually released a striking array of innovative music that would influence the world of contemporary music as we know it today.
Born Stevland Hardaway Judkins (later Morris) on May 13, 1950, two months premature, Stevie was placed in an incubator for life support. However an excess of oxygen resulted in the scarring and detachment of his retina leading to a condition known as Retinopathy of Prematurity.
In 1963, he had his first US number 1 hit single and album with the first live recording to ever top the charts. He is still the youngest person to have reached those number 1 spots.
During the 60’s, under the control of the Motown formula, Stevie evolved from the status of child prodigy to music super stardom. With a string of hits that progressively involved more and more of his song writing, musicianship and production skills he entered the 70’s on a solid foundation to create some of the most enduring music of the century.
At age 21, Stevie broke away from the Motown hit machine and demanded full artistc control for creating and producing his own music. This resulted in an impressive array of albums that are still considered ground breaking achievements.
With this new found freedom in the early 1970’s Stevie pioneered the use of synthesizers, incorporating electronic sounds seamlessly with acoutic sounds. This venture hugely influenced the face of popular music and the development of electronic musical genres.
In 1973 he won a Grammy for the best album of the year, a feat that was repeated for 3 consecutive albums. He has since gone on to win 24 Grammys and be awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achieviement Award in 1996. He has also picked up Academy and Golden Globe awards for his soundtracks to movies.
He was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of fame in 1989, the youngest solo artist to achieve that feat and is also the youngest individual to have been awarded with the Kennedy Center Honour in 1999.
The results of his amalgamation of electronic and acoustic music with unique rhythms and melodies overlaid with poignant lyrics spanning every conceivable life situation has made him an absolutely pivotal figure in modern music.
The longevity of his music is evident in so many facets of our life’s, where his melodies and lyrics are frequently sampled/covered on records and movies and has gained him the respect of his peers in the entertainment industry.
However behind the music scene, he is committed to many humanitarian activities such as Dr King Jnr.’s National Holiday, fight against Apartheid in South Africa, fundraising for AIDS research, numerous Children’s and Cancer charities and always available for Disaster Relief fundraising. Stevie has also held his House Full of Toys annual charity concert since 1995 to raise funds for underprivileged children during the festive Christmas season.
He recently played a pivotal role in the election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States, performing and speaking at many rallies and offering his song, Signed Sealed Delivered, as the theme of the campaign.
In 2009 Stevie was awarded the Gershwin Prize for Popular Music by the US Library of Congress, again the youngest person to achieve this award, which was presented to him at the White House by President Obama. In addtion Stevie was commissioned by the Library to write a classical piece, an honour not normally bestowed on popular music artists.
Currently a United Nations Messenger of Peace, Stevie has been able to win the rights to publish copyrighted works into formats accessible to the visually impaired throughout the world.
Stevie Wonder is without question one of the great personalities in music history. His powerfully expressive vocal presence, coupled with his musical elegance, forms part of the broad, personal spectrum of irresistible music and compelling emotion which is his personal hallmark.
Stevie’s back catalogue and his musical legacy is unparalleled and like Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley, it is highly improbable that we will see his kind again. 26 albums, 25 Grammy Awards and countless collaborations coupled with timeless, sublime musical talent make Stevie a King amongst musicians.