The Wonder of Stevie
Updated: Mar 11, 2020
Members of Suffolk Soul Singers are in the process of learning a new ‘Stevie Wonder song – “As,” (or “I’ll Be Loving You Always” as it’s sometimes known), which means that we have more songs in our repertoire written by Stevie than by any other artist. In addition to ‘As’ we have ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered,’ ‘I Wish,’ ‘Superstition,’ 'Loves in Need of Love Today' and ‘Until You Come Back to Me’ which Stevie co-wrote when he was just a teenager.
I shouldn’t really have been surprised that we have so many songs by a man who seems to have been around on the music scene ever since I can remember. But despite being able to sing along to a large number of his songs, I realised I actually knew very little about Stevie Wonder, apart from the fact that he is blind and was once known as Little Stevie Wonder – which doesn’t really get you far in trying to understand how the man came to be revered as one of the most creative musical figures in the second half of the 20th century.
So, I tried to find out a bit more ….
EARLY LIFE - THE CHILD PRODIGY
Stevie Wonder’s real name is Steveland Hardaway Morris.
He was born - 6 weeks early -in Saginaw, Michigan in 1950, suffering from a condition known as retinopathy of prematurity which, unfortunately, left him completely blind.
His mother, Lula Mae Hardaway, left his father when Stevie was about 4 and moved her family of 3 boys to Detroit.
Because of his blindness, as a young child Stevie spent a lot of time indoors. He used to like to bang on pots and pans in time to the music on the radio. So his older brother, Calvin, bought him a cheap set of bongos, plus a harmonica & a toy piano.
A neighbour allowed him to practise on a real piano so, from the age of 8, he used to play & sing for the choir at his local church.
IN 1961, when he was 11 years old, Ronnie White of the Miracles heard him playing harmonica & singing for friends and he persuaded Berry Gordy at Motown Records to offer the young Stevie an audition.
THE START OF HIS MUSICAL CAREER
After Motown Records repeatedly introduced him as the ’8th Wonder of the World,’ they gave him the stage name ‘Little Stevie Wonder.’
In 1963 the single “Fingertips Part 2,” on which he mostly played harmonica & bongos, made it to No. 1 in US charts, making him, at 13, the youngest solo artist ever to reach that position.
In 964, with his voice breaking, he dropped the ’Little’ from his name and began to focus more on writing & recording songs that better suited him – songs like ‘Uptight,’ and ‘For Once in My Life.’
THE ‘WONDER YEARS’
At 21, wanting more control over his music, Stevie broke away from Motown & recorded two albums independently. He started experimenting with synthesizers & also began to address some of the social issues of the day, influenced by the work of Marvin Gaye.
He returned to Motown a year later with a deal that allowed him full control over his recordings. He produced a run of albums, each of which was hailed a masterpiece, showcasing classic singles like ‘You Are the Sunshine of My Life,’ ‘Superstition’ and ‘Living for the City.’
His 1976 album, ‘Songs in the Key of Life,’ was the best-selling and most critically acclaimed of his career. Two years in the making, Wonder said of it, “I challenged myself …… to cover as many topics as I could….. to express my feelings as a songwriter and as an artist.” The album contains material of a very personal nature - ‘I Wish,' “Isn’t She Lovely” - alongside songs with a strong political message like “Village Ghetto Land,” “Black Man” and “Loves in Need.”
THE 80’s ONWARDS
After his “classic” period, Stevie adopted a more middle-of-the-road approach to writing, having hits with songs like “I Just Called to Say I Love You” and “Part-Time Lover,” but there was less ambition and experimentation. Perhaps he’d achieved all he wanted to achieve.
He became more involved with charitable & political causes and had a number of collaborations with other artists, including Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson & Dionne Warwick.
There has been no new music from Stevie since 2005. He claimed in 2013 that he was working on material for a couple of new albums, but they have never materialised.
He has continued to tour, in the U.S. and around the world, but in July 2019 he announced that he would be undergoing a kidney transplant operation later in the year and he has not performed since.
DID YOU KNOW ……?
"Little Stevie" Wonder grew up to be very over 6' tall.
As well as being blind, Stevie loss his sense of smell & sense of taste as the result of a car accident in 1973
He has married three times - Syreta Wright, (1970-1972), Kai Millard Morris,(2001-2005) & Tomeka Robyn Bracy (2017 - )
He has 9 children with 5 different mothers - Aisha Morris, Keita Morris, Mumtaz Morris, Sophia Morris, Kwame Morris, Kailand Morris, Mandla Morris, a daughter whose name has not been disclosed and Nia Morris
Stevie has released over 40 albums and almost 100 singles
He has 25 Grammy Awards, plus a Lifetime Achievement Award and a Best Song Oscar for “I Just Called To Say I Love You”
In 2014, Wonder received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, the highest honour a civilian can receive in the U.S He is also currently a United Nations Messenger of Peace.
In 1979 Stevie wrote “Happy Birthday” as part of a campaign to create a national holiday in the U.S. to mark the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King. It took until 1983 before the holiday was approved by President Reagan.
Stevie’s mother, Lula Mae Hardaway, co-wrote some of her son’s hits, including “I Was Made to Love Her” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours”
Stevie sang at the funerals of Etta James, Natalie Cole, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston & Aretha Franklin
IN HIS OWN WORDS .......
“I started loving music almost as early as I can remember anything. The thing I want most to do is to make people happy. If my music makes people happy, then I’m happy.”
“What I'm not confused about is the world needing much more love, no hate, no prejudice, no bigotry and more unity, peace and understanding. Period.”
Finally, Rolling Stone Magazine readers voted ‘Superstition’ as the best Stevie Wonder song ever. Would you agree? Write and let me know which is your favourite.