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As one of the best-selling recording artists of all time and a pop music icon, multi-talented Stevie Wonder incorporated funk, blues, R&B and soul into commercially viable music that was punctuated by complex harmonies and socially aware themes. His always positive attitude shined through his music even while tackling heavy issues like poverty, racism and heartache. Hailed as both an genius and innovator, Wonder emerged on the scene at 11 years old as one of Motown Records first successful artists and went on to record a number of chart-topping hits like "Fingertips," "For Once in My Life" and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours." But in 1972, Wonder wrestled control of his creative works from Motown and embarked on his most fruitful and groundbreaking period. Releasing such huge albums as Talking Book (1972), Innervisions (1973) and Songs in the Key of Life (1976), Wonder produced the finest work of his career with songs like "Superstition," "Higher Ground," "Living for the City" and "Sir Duke." He entered the next decade as a more pop-oriented artist, penning the sentimental "I Just Called to Say I Love You" for "The Woman in Red" (1984) soundtrack and collaborating with Paul McCartney on the...
As one of the best-selling recording artists of all time and a pop music icon, multi-talented Stevie Wonder incorporated funk, blues, R&B and soul into commercially viable music that was punctuated by complex harmonies and socially aware themes. His always positive attitude shined through his music even while tackling heavy issues like poverty, racism and heartache. Hailed as both an genius and innovator, Wonder emerged on the scene at 11 years old as one of Motown Records first successful artists and went on to record a number of chart-topping hits like "Fingertips," "For Once in My Life" and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours." But in 1972, Wonder wrestled control of his creative works from Motown and embarked on his most fruitful and groundbreaking period. Releasing such huge albums as Talking Book (1972), Innervisions (1973) and Songs in the Key of Life (1976), Wonder produced the finest work of his career with songs like "Superstition," "Higher Ground," "Living for the City" and "Sir Duke." He entered the next decade as a more pop-oriented artist, penning the sentimental "I Just Called to Say I Love You" for "The Woman in Red" (1984) soundtrack and collaborating with Paul McCartney on the sappy "Ebony and Ivory" (1982). Though a true music legend by this time, Wonder's output slowed down, as he released only four studio albums over the next two decades. Having won over 20 Grammy Awards throughout his career, Wonder lived on as one of the greatest pop artists of the latter half of the 20th century well and into the new millennium, even though his best work remained firmly etched in his classic era of the 1970s.
Born on May 13, 1950 in Saginaw, MI, Wonder was the third of six children reared by his father, Calvin, and his mother, Lula Mae. Having been born six weeks premature, Wonder suffered from retinopathy of prematurity, which meant that the blood vessels behind his eyes had not yet reached the front and caused his retinas to detach, leaving him completely blind. At four years old, his mother left his father and moved the children to Detroit, where he started playing a variety of instruments like drums, piano and harmonica while also singing in his church choir. When he was 11, Wonder had the fortune to meet Ronnie White of The Miracles, who heard the talented youngster and brought him to the attention of Motown Records legend Berry Gordy. Gordy was also impressed with Wonder's prodigious gifts and signed him to a contract under the performing name Little Stevie Wonder. He soon recorded his first song, "I Call It Pretty Music, But the Old People Call it the Blues," and released two albums, The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie (1962) and Tribute to Uncle Ray (1962), all to little mainstream success.
In 1963, Wonder broke through at 13 years old with his first hit, "Fingertips (Pt. 2)," which was the instrumental B-side to the single "Fingertips" that showcased the young teenager's prowess on the harmonica. The cut reached the top of both the Billboard Pops Singles and the R&B Singles charts, while becoming Motown's second-ever No. 1 single. He went on to make his film debut with a cameo as himself in "Muscle Beach Party" (1963) and returned for the sequel "Bikini Beach" (1964), before going on to produce a number of hits in the mid-to-late-1960s after dropping "Little" from his stage name. In 1966, he resurrected his career after a string of non-hits with "Uptight (Everything's Alright)," which helped to reinvigorate the flagging Wonder. He went on to successfully cover Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" while also beginning to work as a songwriter for other Motown artists, penning hits like "Tears of a Clown" for Smokey Robinson & the Miracles. After recording the commercially unsuccessful album Eivets Rednow (1968) - Stevie Wonder spelled backwards - he produced a number of single hits like "For Once in My Life" (1967) and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" (1970).
By 1972, Wonder demanded full control over his music and the rights to own his own songs after years of dissatisfaction with Motown Records. The company responded by giving in to his request and signed him to an unprecedented contract that allowed Wonder to fully delve into his creativity. Gone where the focus on singles and B-sides, and in its place was a concentration on developing thematically cohesive albums with a strong, socially conscious message that marked what many would call Wonder's classic period. The first record of this new era was Music of My Mind (1972), which featured the soul funk of "Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You?)" and "I Love Every Little Thing About You." Also present on the album was Wonder's early experiments with synthesizers. He next recorded the hit record Talking Book (1972), which featured the love song "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" and the super funky "Superstition," widely considered to be the best use of the Hohner Clavinet. Both songs earned him three Grammy Awards, including two for "Superstition."
Wonder followed up with Innervisions (1973), which many considered to be his finest work. With the high-energy funk of "Higher Ground" to the deep soul of "Living for the City," the album became a huge hit with critics and stood the test of time as arguably one of the greatest pop albums ever recorded. But right after Innervisions was released, Wonder was in a serious car accident while on tour in North Carolina, where the car he was riding in crashed into the back of a flat bed truck. The bed of the truck went through the windshield and struck Wonder in the head, leaving him in a coma for four days. His injuries left him with a partial loss of his sense of smell. But he soon recovered and went on to record Fulfillingness' First Finale (1974), another hit record which contained the hits "Boogie on Reggae Woman" and "You Haven't Done Nothin'." Wonder's classic period reached its zenith with the double-LP Songs in the Key of Life (1976), an ambitious concept album that left a few fans scratching their heads, but nonetheless became a No. 1 hit while being praised by critics as one his crowning achievements. The album spawned to No. 1 hits, "Sir Duke" and "I Wish," while also producing the popular "Isn't She Lovely?"
After he peaked with his classic period in 1976, Wonder turned another direction and began recording soundtracks, starting with Journey Through "The Secret Life of Plants" (1979), which provided the music for the Walon Green documentary "The Secret Life of Plants." Following the success of the more pop-oriented Hotter than July (1980) and the chart-climbing compilation Stevie Wonder's Original Musiquarium (1982), Wonder had a huge hit single with "Ebony and Ivory," a duet with Paul McCartney that was featured on the ex-Beatles' album, Tug of War (1982). Despite resting atop the charts at No 1, the song was derided by some as being too cornball and received its share of parodies and ribbing over the years. Two years later, Wonder wrote the soundtrack to the Gene Wilder-Kelly LeBrock romantic comedy "The Woman in Red" (1984), which featured "I Just Called to Say I Love You," a simplistic and sentimental song that went on to become his biggest-selling hit. By the mid-1980s, Wonder was undoubtedly a music icon and one of pop's best-selling performers, though his output in ensuing years slowed down considerably.
In 1989, Wonder was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and recorded the soundtrack to Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever" (1991). He released a few albums of his own, including Characters (1987), Conversation Peace (1995) and the live recording Natural Wonder (1996), but nothing came close to the classic era of the early-to-mid-1970s. Wonder stayed out of the studio for the next 10 years; instead focusing on collaborations with artists as varied as KISS, Lenny Kravitz and Babyface. He also participated in a number of big events: playing at the opening ceremonies for the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City and at the 2005 Live 8 concert in Philadelphia, PA. Following an appearance on a 2006 episode of the ever-popular "American Idol" (Fox, 2002- ), Wonder collaborated with Busta Rhymes on The Big Bang (2006). Meanwhile, he returned to the studio to record his own material for A Time to Love (2005), which climbed all the way to No. 5 on the charts. After performing his first concert tour in years in 2007, he played two songs at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, CO, which nominated eventual president Barack Obama. Wonder also performed at Obama's history-making inauguration in January 2009. Obama later awarded Wonder with the Gershwin Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2009, which was given to artists for their lifetime's contributions. In July of that year, he played "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer" and other songs at the Staples Center for the memorial service for his friend Michael Jackson, which left him emotionally bereft to the point of being unable to maintain his composure.
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