Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Stevie Wonder (real name: Steveland Hardaway Judkins, born on May 13, 1950 in Saginaw, Michigan) is an African American singer, songwriter, producer, musician, humanitarian and social activist. Blind nearly from birth, Wonder became one of the most successful and well-known artists on the Motown label, with nine #1 hits to his name. He has recorded several critically acclaimed albums and hit singles, and writing and producing songs for many of his labelmates and outside artists as well. A multi-instrumentalist, Wonder plays the drums, guitar, synthesizers, congas, and most famously the piano, harmonica and the keyboard.
Artist career history
Steveland Judkins was born prematurely, and became blind after being exposed to excessive oxygen levels in his incubator. He learned to play a number of instruments, most notably the piano, congas, and harmonica, at an early age, and was proclaimed a child prodigy. In 1962, at the age of eleven, he was signed by Berry Gordy to the Motown label as Little Stevie Wonder.
Little Stevie Wonder's first major hit came in 1963 with "Fingertips (Pt. 2)", a live recording from a Motortown Revue performance. The song, featuring Wonder on vocals, congas, and harmonica, was a #1 hit on the US pop charts and launched him into the public consciousness. Dropping the "Little" from his moniker, Wonder went on to have a number of other hits during the mid-1960s, including "Uptight (Everything's Alright)", "With a Child's Heart", and "Blowin' in the Wind", a Bob Dylan cover which was one of the first songs to reflect Wonder's social consciousness. He also began to work in the Motown songwriting department, composing songs both for himself and his labelmates.
By 1970, Wonder had scored more major hits, including "My Cherie Amour" and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)". Besides being one of the first songs on which Wonder serves as both songwriter and producer, "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" is one of the main showcases for his backup group Wonderlove, a trio which included at various times Minnie Riperton, Deniece Williams, Lynda Laurence, and Syreeta Wright, whom Wonder married on September 14, 1970. Wonder and Wright divorced eighteen months later, but continued to collaborate on musical projects.
Stevie Wonder, along with Marvin Gaye, was one of the few Motown stars to contest the label's factory-like operation methods: artists, songwriters, and producers were usually specialized fields with little or no overlap, and artists had no creative control. After a number of arguments with Berry Gordy over allowing Wonder to have his own creative control, Wonder allowed his Motown contract to expire, and left the label on his twenty-first birthday in 1971. His final album before his departure was Where I'm Coming From, which Gordy had strongly fought against releasing.
He independently recorded and released two albums, which he used as a bargaining tool while negotiating with Motown. Eventually, the label agreed to his demands for full creative control and the rights to his own songs, and Wonder returned to Motown in 1972 with Music of My Mind, an album which is considered a classic of the era. Unlike most previous artist LPs on Motown, which usually consisted of a collection singles, b-sides, and covers, Music on My Mind was an actual LP, full-length artistic statement. The critical and commercial successes Talking Book and Innervisions continued Wonder's critical and popular acclaim, addressing more and more political issues as his music progressed. Talking Book featured the #1 pop and R&B hit "Superstition", which is one of the most distinctive examples of the sound of the clavinet. (Wonder performed "Superstition" on the children's show Sesame Street in 1973.) Wonder's artistic growth continued on Fulfillingness' First Finale (1974) and his magnum opus, Songs in the Key of Life (1976).
Wonder's next album was a soundtrack album for the film Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants. The album was panned at the time of its release but has come to be regarded as a classic album. Hotter Than July (1980) become Wonder's first platinum selling album, and its single "Happy Birthday" was a successful vehicle for his campaign to establish Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday as a national holiday. The album also included "Master Blaster (Jammin')", his tribute to Bob Marley, and the sentimental ballad, "Lately", which was later covered by '90s R&B act Jodeci. In 1982, Wonder released an introspective of his '70s work with Original Musiquarium and included three more hit singles in his catalogue, including the ten-minute funk classic "Do I Do" (which included legendary jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie), "That Girl" (one of the year's biggest singles to chart on the R&B side) and "Ribbon in the Sky", one of his many classic compositions.
1984 saw the release of Wonder's soundtrack album for The Lady in Red. The lead single, "I Just Called to Say I Love You", was a #1 pop and R&B hit in the US, and is Motown's biggest-selling single ever in the United Kingdom. It was placed 13th in the all-time list of best-selling singles in the UK issued in 2002. The following year's In Square Circle featured the #1 pop hit "Part-Time Lover".
After 1987's Characters LP, Wonder continued to release new material, albeit at a slower pace. He recorded a soundtrack album for Spike Lee's film Jungle Fever in 1991, and released both Conversation Peace and the live album Natural Wonder during the same decade. In December 1999, Wonder announced that he was interested in pursuing an intraocular retinal prosthesis to partially restore his sight. 
Producer and songwriter
Besides creating his own material, Stevie Wonder has written and produced a number of songs for other artists. Among his most significant compositions or co-compositions are "The Tears of a Clown" by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, "It's a Shame" by The Spinners, and "You Are My Heaven" by Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway. He has also collaborated with Quincy Jones, Barbara Streisand, B.B. King, The Supremes, Michael Jackson, The Temptations, Dionne Warwick, Julio Iglesias, and former Musical Youth lead singer Dennis Seaton.
Stevie Wonder's success as a multi-instrumentalist and socially conscious musical performer was significantly influential to both R&B and pop music. Among the musicians and performers who list Wonder as one of their major influences are India.Arie, Musiq Soulchild, Alicia Keys, John Legend, and the members of Jodeci and Dru Hill.
Awards and recognition
Stevie has received 22 Grammy Awards over the course of his career. In 1989, Wonder was inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He is also an inductee to the Songwriter's Hall of Fame. Wonder also received Kennedy Center Honors in 1999, and was awarded the highest honor to be received at the Billboard Music Award for the Century Award in 2004.
In accepting an honorary doctor of music degree at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1996, Wonder said: "Many years ago, but not so long ago, there were those who said, 'Well, you have three strikes against you: You're Black, you're blind and you're poor.' But God said to me, 'I will make you rich in the spirit of inspiration, to inspire others as well as create music to encourage the world to a place of oneness and hope and positivity.' I believed Him and not them."
The Official Stevie Wonder website features a discography with sound clips of his most significant material.
US and UK Top Ten singles
- 1963: "Fingertips (Pt. 2)" (US #1)
- 1965: "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" (US #3)
- 1966: "Blowin' in the Wind" (US #9)
- 1966: "A Place in the Sun" (US #9)
- 1967: "I Was Made to Love Her" (US #2)
- 1968: "Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day" (US #9)
- 1969: "My Cherie Amour" (US #4)
- 1969: "Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday" (US #7)
- 1970: "Heaven Help Us All" (US #9)
- 1970: "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)" (US #3)
- 1971: "If You Really Love Me" (US #8)
- 1972: "Superstition" (US #1)
- 1973: "Higher Ground" (US #4)
- 1973: "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" (US #1)
- 1974: "Living for the City" (US #9)
- 1974: "You Haven't Done Nothin'" (US #1)
- 1977: "I Wish" (US #1)
- 1977: "Sir Duke" (US #1)
- 1979: "Send One Your Love" (US #4)
- 1980: "Master Blaster (Jammin)" (US #5)
- 1982: "Ebony and Ivory" (duet with Paul McCartney) (US #1)
- 1982: "That Girl" (US #4)
- 1984: "I Just Called to Say I Love You" (US #1, UK #1)
- 1985: "Go Home" (US #10)
- 1985: "Part-Time Lover" (US #1)
Regular studio albums
- 1963: The 12 Year Old Genius
- 1965: Down to Earth
- 1967: I Was Made to Love Her
- 1968: For Once in My Life
- 1969: My Cherie Amour
- 1970: Signed, Sealed, and Delivered
- 1971: Where I'm Coming From
- 1972: Music of My Mind
- 1972: Talking Book
- 1973: Innervisions
- 1974: Fulfillingness' First Finale
- 1976: Songs in the Key of Life
- 1978: Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants Soundtrack
- 1980: Hotter than July
- 1984: The Woman in Red Soundtrack
- 1985: In Square Circle
- 1987: Characters
- 1991: Jungle Fever Soundtrack
- 1995: Conversation Peace
- 2005: A Time 2 Love
- Stevie Wonder Forever - Fansite with Books, Music Lyrics and more.
- Photo archive of Stevie Wonder by Chris Walter, from the 60's to present day.
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