Singer, songwriter, musician, producer, child prodigy...
Stevie Wonder's storied life and legacy is not easily captured in just a few adjectives. And, at 71, this musical genius shows no signs of slowing down. From his first chart-topping success at age 13, to his 25 Grammy Award wins (and whopping 74 nominations), Wonder remains an icon of American music and a testament to creating music for music's sake.
The international star was born Stevland Hardaway Judkins in Saginaw, Michigan. Born six weeks premature, Morris lost his sight permanently in an over-oxygenated incubator. However, this hardly slowed the soon-to-be prodigy. Turning to music, Wonder became proficient at piano, harmonica and drums by the age of eight. By eleven, he was signed to Motown, earning the stage name "Little Stevie Wonder." Fame struck soon after. In 1963, Wonder's first hit, "Fingertips," made him the youngest artist to ever top the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Throughout the 1960s, Stevie evolved from the status of child prodigy to music super stardom. While signed to Motown, Wonder produced a string of hits that progressively involved more and more of his songwriting, musicianship and production skills. By the time the 70s rolled around, Wonder was well positioned to create some of the most enduring music of the century. Gone were the days of "Little" Stevie Wonder – instead, in his place stood a fully-realized artist with a point to prove.
At 21, Wonder's contract with Motown expired. Before re-signing, the artist negotiated an agreement that allowed him near complete artistic control over his work. From there, it was off to the races. Any anxieties about the prodigy's declaration of independence were quickly calmed by the run of recordings with which Wonder obliterated any competition in the mid-1970s. Talking Book (1972) with early hits "Superstition" and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," Innervisions (1973), Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974), and Songs in the Key of Life (1976) were all regarded as masterpieces, and the last three of them won a slew of Grammy Awards, each of them being named album of the year. This period of magnificence is often referred to as Wonder's "Classic Period," set off by re-signing to Motown on his 21st birthday.
By his mid-20s, Stevie possessed incredible musical dexterity. The artist had mastered the idioms of African-American music while innovating to incorporate electronic sounds alongside acoustic rhythms. These ventures hugely influenced the face of popular music and the development of electronic musical genres for decades to come.
Following his groundbreaking success of the 70s, Wonder continued to experiment with his sound and lyricism. 1980 began with a disco-influenced album titled Hotter Than July, which contained a tribute track to icon Bob Marley alongside other reggae hits. In 1982, Wonder made waves yet again with the release of "Ebony and Ivory," a collaboration with Paul McCartney promoting racial harmony. The song hit number 1 in both the US and UK, and went on to be one of the highest selling singles of 1982. In the mid-eighties, Wonder (who was now in quite high demand) released the soundtrack for Gene Wilder's film The Woman in Red. The hit "I Just Called to Say I Love You" became one of the Motown label's most renowned hits of all time, and won an Academy Award for best original song.
Throughout the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, Wonder continued to release albums, collaborations, and movie soundtracks that are still widely enjoyed today. Such selections include his 1985 album Square Circle, 1989's Characters and 1991's Conversation Peace. Wonder also composed pieces for Spike Lee's 1991 film Jungle Fever, from which came three more Top 10 R&B singles.
Wonder was inducted into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. Among other accolades, Wonder received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014, and holds a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement. Wonder now lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Tomeeka Robyn Bracy, and continues to do what he does best: pull us all a little closer with music we won't forget.
Watch Wonder perform live in 1974 below.