Born: May 13, 1950
b. Steveland Judkins, 13 May 1950, Saginaw, Michigan, USA. Born Judkins, Wonder now prefers to be known as Steveland Morris after his mother's married name. Placed in an incubator immediately after his birth, baby Steveland was given too much oxygen, causing Steveland to suffer permanent blindness. Despite this handicap, Wonder began to learn the piano at the age of seven, and had also mastered drums and harmonica by the age of nine. After his family moved to Detroit in 1954, Steveland joined a church choir, the gospel influence on his music balanced by the R&B of Ray Charles and Sam Cooke being played on his transistor radio....
b. Steveland Judkins, 13 May 1950, Saginaw, Michigan, USA. Born Judkins, Wonder now prefers to be known as Steveland Morris after his mother's married name. Placed in an incubator immediately after his birth, baby Steveland was given too much oxygen, causing Steveland to suffer permanent blindness. Despite this handicap, Wonder began to learn the piano at the age of seven, and had also mastered drums and harmonica by the age of nine. After his family moved to Detroit in 1954, Steveland joined a church choir, the gospel influence on his music balanced by the R&B of Ray Charles and Sam Cooke being played on his transistor radio.
In 1961, he was discovered by Ronnie White of the Miracles, who arranged an audition at Motown Records. Berry Gordy immediately signed Steveland to the label, renaming him Little Stevie Wonder (the Little was dropped in 1964). Wonder was placed in the care of writer/producer Clarence Paul, who supervised his early recordings. These accentuated his prodigal talents as a multi-instrumentalist, but did not represent a clear musical direction. In 1963, however, the release of the ebullient live recording Fingertips (Part 2) established his commercial success, and Motown quickly marketed him on a series of albums as the 12-year-old genius in an attempt to link him with the popularity of the genius, Ray Charles. Attempts to repeat the success of Fingertips proved abortive, and Wonder's career was placed on hold during 1964 while his voice was breaking. He re-emerged in 1965 with a sound that was much closer to the Motown mainstream, scoring a worldwide hit with the dance-orientated Uptight (Everything's Alright), which he co-wrote with Henry Cosby and Sylvia Moy. This began a run of US Top 40 hits that continued unbroken (apart from seasonal Christmas releases) for over six years.
From 1965-70, Stevie Wonder was marketed like the other major Motown stars, recording material that was chosen for him by the label's executives, and issuing albums that mixed conventional soul compositions with pop standards. His strong humanitarian principles were allowed expression on his version of Bob Dylan's Blowin' In The Wind and Ron Miller's A Place In The Sun in 1966. He co-wrote almost all of his singles from 1967 onwards, and also began to collaborate on releases by other Motown artists, most notably co-writing Smokey Robinson And The Miracles' hit The Tears Of A Clown, and writing and producing the (Detroit) Spinners' It's A Shame.
His contract with Motown expired in 1971; rather than re-signing immediately, as the label expected, Wonder financed the recording of two albums of his own material, playing almost all the instruments himself, and experimenting for the first time with more ambitious musical forms. He pioneered the use of the synthesizer in black music, and also widened his lyrical concerns to take in racial problems and spiritual questions. Wonder then used these recordings as a lever to persuade Motown to offer a more open contract, which gave him total artistic control over his music, plus the opportunity to hold the rights to the music publishing in his own company, Black Bull Music. He celebrated the signing of the deal with the release of the solo recordings, Where I'm Coming From and Music Of My Mind, which despite lukewarm critical reaction quickly established him at the forefront of black music.
Talking Book in 1972 combined the artistic advances of recent albums with major commercial success, producing glorious hit singles with the polyrhythmic funk of Superstition and the crafted ballad, You Are The Sunshine Of My Life. Wonder married fellow Motown artist Syreeta on 14 September 1970; he premiered many of his new production techniques on Syreeta (1972) and Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta (1974), for which he also wrote most of the material. Innervisions (1973) consolidated his growth and success with Talking Book, bringing further hit singles with the socially aware Living For The City and Higher Ground'. Later that year, Wonder was seriously injured in a car accident; his subsequent work was tinged with the awareness of mortality, fired by his spiritual beliefs. The release of Fulfillingness First Finale in 1974 epitomized this more austere approach. The double album Songs In The Key Of Life (1976) was widely greeted as his most ambitious and satisfying work to date. It showed a mastery and variety of musical forms and instruments, offering a joyous tribute to Duke Ellington on Sir Duke, and heralding a pantheon of major black figures on Black Man. This confirmed Wonder's status as one of the most admired musicians and songwriters in contemporary music.
Surprisingly, after this enormous success, no new recordings surfaced for over three years, as Wonder concentrated on perfecting the soundtrack music to the documentary film, The Secret Life Of Plants. This primarily instrumental double album was greeted with disappointing reviews and sales. Wonder quickly delivered the highly successful Hotter Than July in 1980, which included a tribute song for the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Happy Birthday, and a notable essay in reggae form on Masterblaster (Jamming). The failure of his film project brought an air of caution into Wonder's work, and delays and postponements were now a consistent factor in his recording process. After compiling the retrospective double album Stevie Wonder's Original Musiquarium I in 1982, which included four new recordings alongside the cream of his post-1971 work, Wonder scheduled an album entitled People Move Human Play in 1983. This never appeared; instead, he composed the soundtrack music for the movie The Woman In Red, which included his biggest-selling single to date, the sentimental ballad I Just Called To Say I Loved You. The album on which he had been working since 1980 eventually appeared in 1985 as In Square Circle. Like his next project, Characters in 1987, it heralded a return to the accessible, melodic music of the previous decade, but the unadventurous nature of both projects, and the heavy expectations engendered by the delay in their release, led to a disappointing reception from critics and public alike.
Wonder's status as an elder statesman of black music, and a champion of black rights, was boosted by his campaign in the early 80s to have the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King celebrated as a national holiday in the USA. This request was granted by President Reagan, and the first Martin Luther King Day was celebrated on 15 January 1986 with a concert at which Wonder topped the bill. Besides his own recordings, Wonder has been generous in offering his services as a writer, producer, singer or musician to other performers. His most public collaborations included work with Paul McCartney, which produced a cloying but enormous hit, Ebony And Ivory, Gary Byrd, Michael Jackson, and Eurythmics, and on the benefit records by USA For Africa and Dionne Warwick And Friends. Conversation Peace in 1995 was an average album with no outstanding songs, but our expectation of Wonder is different to that of most other artists. He could release 10 indifferent, poor, weak or spectacular records over the next 20 years and nothing would change our fixed perception of him and of the body of outstanding music he has produced since 1963.
A Time To Love
Stevie Wonder's highly anticipated new album, A Time To Love, arrives as a wake-up call to the restorative powers of love, and, according to Stevie, the timing couldn't be better. My thing has never been about creating music on some sort of schedule, says Stevie. When creating music you have to live life - be inspired by life - to create experiences that are worth sharing with the world. A Time To Love is saying that there is a need, now, more than ever, to bring love back into the forefront.
New songs including the first single, So What The Fuss, From The Bottom Of My Heart, and the aptly titled Positivity, have Wonder enthusiasts already pegging the new disc as another leap in the singer/songwriter's incredible musical canon. I'm asked all the time to talk about my work, but I don't ever compare one song against another, says Wonder. I really do seek to create music that is timeless. I love all kinds of music, all styles. The music today - whether it's mine or another artist - is as relevant and as significant as the music from yesterday. When I sit down to write, it's all an expression of energy, and the particular song that comes is the form I choose to adapt to that energy. Each project takes on its own life, and the songs from A Time To Love are the most appropriate for the statement I wanted to make.
Fellow Motown artist, India.Arie, joins Wonder on the title song, A Time To Love, co-writing the song with Stevie. I gave her the concept and some of the words, and she did what she always does, her usual masterful job with the lyric presentation.
A Time To Love continues Wonder's dialogue with music fans who've come to rely on the singer/songwriter's spirited optimism. The time is right again for this kind of conversation, says Stevie. And we're talking about all forms of love. Love you have for a significant other. Love for a spouse, for your brother or sister, for humankind. The love of your faith. Whatever your passion is, this project was made with every level of love in mind.
Born Steveland Morris in Saginaw, Michigan in 1950, Wonder enters his fifth decade as one of the most prolific artists in music history, delivering 35 U.S. albums - 28 major studio releases - with album sales totaling more than 72 million units. The singer/songwriter has scored more than 30 Top Ten Hits, 11 #1 Pop singles, winning 19 Grammys (and a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in '96) and a host of other awards, including, most recently, Billboard's 2004 Century Award. His contribution to worldwide social and political change is just as impressive, with Wonder championing the effort to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday, as well as becoming a driving force behind 1985's USA For Africa campaign.
Honored at the 22nd Kennedy Center Honors in 1999, President Clinton remarked: In so many ways (Wonder) has helped to compose the remaining passages of Dr. King's legacy. But it is Wonder's songwriting legacy that has inexorably connected him to the world. From Motown prodigy to groundbreaking innovator, he has always believed in music as a transformational force.
As one critic wrote about Wonder's ingenious musical techniques: He was simply the best at humanizing synthesizers.' His mind bending fusion of innovative beats and ear-to-the street lyrical sensibilities single-handedly revitalized American songwriting in the '70's. Wonder forged his diverging styles into a trademark sound, putting his musical signature on an epic quartet of albums that would change music forever - 1972's Talking Book, 1973's Innervisions, 1974's Fullfillingness' First Finale, and 1976's Songs In The Key Of Life. By decade's end, Wonder had garnered a record 15 Grammys, as well as numerous other awards. He was now cited by critics and fans alike as, arguably, the most important songwriter of his generation. The songs tethered during this era, from Superstition, and You Are The Sunshine Of My Life, to Living In The City, from Higher Ground, to You Haven't Done Nothin', from Boogie On Reggae Woman, to I Wish and Sir Duke, confirmed Wonder's status as a national treasure.
He continued his hit making journey in the decades to follow, penning, among other classics, his 1982 collaboration with Paul McCartney, Ebony And Ivory, which remained #1 for seven weeks in a row. 1984's The Woman In Red soundtrack produced the enduring classic I Just Called To Say I Love You, yet another #1 hit that netted him an Academy Award.
In 1989 wonder was inducted into the Rock 'N Roll Hall Of Fame along side none other than the Rolling Stones. As if to prove even Wonder's rock roots had come full circle - the Stones were the only band he chose to tour with when debuting his breakthrough masterpiece, Superstition in 1972.
The '90's brought exciting new opportunities for Wonder, with his influence on the new breed of hip hop artists evident when Coolio fused Wonder's Pastime Paradise, for his 1995 smash Gangsta's Paradise. Countless more hip hop stars would pay homage to Wonder, including Public Enemy and Jay-Z, citing his tremendous influence over the genre, and morphing other Wonder nuggets into revamped hip hop gems. Two recent Stevie Wonder collections capture the depth of his amazing career, At The Close Of The Century, 1999's first authorized box set, a 4 CD, 70 song collection with additional bonus tracks. 2002 marked the release of The Definitive Collection, a 21 song CD, including 15 of Wonder's #1's. The compilation includes songs from 1963-1985, and was universally hailed as one of the finer musical retrospectives ever released, capturing one of the most integral American artist's at the top of his game.
The new millennium found music fans marveling at Wonder's incredible staying power, acknowledging the brilliance of his 40-plus year career with a slew of awards.
Inducted into the Songwriter's Hall Of Fame in 2002, he was the first African American to be awarded the Johnny Mercer Award in 2004, in recognition of a lifetime of outstanding creative works. At the end of the year he was presented with Billboard's highest honor for creative achievement, The Billboard Century Award, whose past honorees include George Harrison, Joni Mitchell, and John Mellencamp, among others. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine cited four Wonder albums in their list of the 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time, including Innervisions (#23) and Songs In The Key Of Life (#56).
As Wonder gets ready to add another album to his legacy, he muses about the mystery of creativity in a world hungering for a message. Ever since Songs In The Key Of Life I feel it's been a blessing from God in giving me the titles, but ultimately, all songs must stand on their own. I've always written about love, but the ones that spoke to me the loudest are the ones you'll find On A Time To Love.
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