Steveland Judkins Morris was only 11 years old when Motown signed him to a contract in 1961. A musical genius, Stevie could do it all: He sang, he played multiple instruments and he wrote music that was often ahead of its time. He was, in fact, a wonder!
Numerous stories attribute the bestowing of his stage name, Stevie Wonder, to various authors from Miracles’ Ronnie White to producer Mickey Stevenson to Berry Gordy, Jr., himself. Whoever first said it is lost for time, but its truth can never be challenged.
From precocious pre-teen to prodigious producer, Stevie’s first #1 hit, “Fingertips, Part 2,” burst on the scene in 1963 after being recorded live during the Motortown Revue. More #1 hits followed, including “Uptight (Everything Is Alright),” “With a Child’s Heart” and the socially conscious cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” During this period, Stevie began to work as a songwriter, penning the Miracles’ “Tears of a Clown” and the Spinners’ “It’s a Shame,” among other tunes.
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Stevie received full creative control of his work after he turned 21, and began to write, perform and produce the albums for which he is most well known. The first, 1972’s “Music of My Mind,” was groundbreaking in its development of a unified theme, Wonder’s collaboration with synthesizer pioneers, and the inclusion of topics that plague society as well as the traditional romantic messages that listeners were used to hearing. His next album, “Talking Book,” featured the hits “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” and “Superstition.” Stevie also took an unusual step for a Motown artist by going on tour with the British rock band the Rolling Stones, which brought his music to an audience with different musical tastes. Later albums, “Innervisons,” “Fulfillingness’ First Finale” and “Songs in the Key of Life,” continued his streak of successes, as Grammys and other awards were heaped upon him year after year.
His 1980 release, “Hotter Than July,” was Wonder’s first platinum album. The star used one of the album’s cuts, “Happy Birthday,” to fuel his campaign to have Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday declared a national holiday. Continuing to write, produce and record, Stevie produced music for films over the next two decades to the delight of fans across the world.
Throughout his prolific career, Stevie Wonder has been rightfully regarded as a musical genius. The 100 million records he has sold and his 30 Top 10 hits, Academy Award for Best Song and 22 Grammy Awards attest to his talent and skills. Induction into the Songwriters and Rock and Roll halls of fame was to be expected. Rolling Stone magazine named Wonder the ninth greatest singer of all time.