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Stevie Wonder was born Stevland Hardaway Judkins on May 13, 1950. Later, he was known as Stevland Hardaway Morris. He is a multi-talented and multi-awarded American singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, and record producer. Among his notable achievements were his more than 30 U.S. top hits, 22 Grammy Awards, lifetime achievement award, an Academy Award for Best Song and Hall of Fame Award in both “Rock and Roll” and “Songwriters”.
A genuine child prodigy, Stevie was only eleven years old when he started his recording career with Motown Records. It was Motown boss Berry Gordy Jr that gave him the name “Little Stevie Wonder” after a comment made by producer Mickey Stevenson to the effect that the boy was “a wonder”. An initial public perception of him being just a young version of Ray Charles was soon dispelled when he displayed his musical and singing talents.
These talents earned him several honors for his critically acclaimed albums and singles. As a songwriter and producer, he has created hits not only for his Motown family but also for outside artists. As an instrumentalist, he plays the piano, synthesizer, harmonica, congas, drums, bass guitar, bongos, organ, melodica and clarinet.
His 1984 hit single “I Just Called to Say I Love You” gave honors for African American musicians when he won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, the first of such kind of award for Motown. He is also noted for writing songs that tend to remain in the UK music charts for lengthy periods of time.
It was in 1961 when he was discovered by a relative of Ronnie White, member of The Miracles, who heard him singing in the street. That relative introduced Stevie to White, who brought him and his mother to Motown. Under Tamla label, Motown CEO Berry Gordy signed in Stevie as a recording artist and he cut his first record aged 12. This was the beginning of a true ‘wonder’ on American music scene.
By 1962, he released his first two albums, “The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie Wonder” and “Tribute to Uncle Ray”. Although these did not do very well in the charts, they paved the way to nationwide popularity and recognition. Today, Wonder’s songs are considered quite difficult to sing because of their abrupt, unpredictable changes in key, but with very developed sense of harmony.
Wonder aptly infuses social consciousness into his career as a musical performer which has permeated into popular music. There are many musicians and public figures who acknowledge his influence in their own lives and musical career. To name a few are Stevie Ray Vaughan, Barack Obama, Gloria Estefan, George Michael, Luciano Pavarotti, Michael Jackson, N’Sync, Alicia Keys, Sting, Beyonce Knowles and many, many more.
Aside from being a great instrumentalist, Wonder started the revolution in realistically reproducing the sounds of orchestral instruments. In the early 80s, he urged Raymond Kurzweil to create the first electronic synthesizers. He was able to develop new textures and sounds in collaboration with Robert Marquoleff and Malcolm Cecil.
Stevie Wonder has been blind from birth, and his experiences in life were wonderfully described in his album “Through The Eyes of Wonder”, one of his later works, released in 2008. His other album titled “The Gospel Inspired by Luia” brings to the surface his social concern about the various spiritual and cultural crises that the world faces today.
He is still in demand for big occasions, and performed in the opening ceremonies of Salt Lake City’s 2002 Winter Paralympics in March 2002. He also performed at the Super Bowl XL in Detroit where his 4-year-old son played the drums and on that occasion accompanied Aretha Franklin when she sang “The Star Spangled Banner”.
In the 2006 edition of the top-rated American Idol, Stevie Wonder was greatly honored when all 12 contestants each sang one of his songs as gratitude to the guidance he extended to them.
One grand occasion in Wonder’s career was when he performed at the Invesco Field at Mile High, Denver, Colorado during Barack Obama’s acceptance of his party’s nomination to run for President of the United States on August 28, 2008. It was during this event when he sang one of his unreleased songs “Fear Can’t Put Dreams to Sleep” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” which became a favorite Obama campaign material.
President Obama’s Inauguration Day on January 20, 2009 was another big day in Stevie’s life when he, together with Sting, performed the song “Brand New Day”. He also performed “All About the Love Again”, his new song.
One of the latest feathers added to his cap is the “Library of Congress’s Gershwin Prize” for pop music awarded by no less than United States President Barack Obama on February 23, 2009 at the White House, making Stevie Wonder the second recipient of such prestigious award.
Stevie Wonder has been a marvelous representative for colored American music, and also a fabulous role model for the blind the world over, proving that such a handicap need not be a handicap at all, and all it takes is the will to succeed – together with not a little ability. He is deservedly admired and respected by his peers and those that followed him, and there could be no better example to youngsters trying to break into the music industry today.
write by Harding