From child prodigy, to multi-instrumental genius, to living legend – here are the skeletons in STEVIE WONDER’s closet…
1. Real name Steveland Hardaway Judkins, the young Stevie Wonder was born six weeks premature in Saginaw, Michigan. The stunted growth of blood vessels in the back of his eyes caused his retinas to detach. The oxygen pumped into his incubator exacerbated the condition, leaving the tiny baby permanently blind.
2. Mere blindness wasn’t about to stop Stevie Wonder from pursuing his love of music. A member of his local church choir soon after he could walk, the young singer mastered piano, harmonica, drums and bass before hitting his teens. Auditioning for Motown Records, eleven-year-old Stevie left founder Berry Gordy speechless.
3. At thirteen, Stevie’s cut of ‘Fingertips’ from the Motortown Revue sailed up the Billboard charts, becoming the first live track to top the Stateside countdown. On drums? A young Marvin Gaye.
4. Scoring a series of massive hits, Little Stevie was surrounded by some of the finest tutors in the history of pop music. Learning at the feet of Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross, the singer rapidly matured and by 1964 the ‘Little’ misnomer had been ditched. Daring to cover Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, the single became a remarkable hit, pushing the boundaries of Motown.
5. Matching global hits with a growing interest in studio technology, Stevie recorded an album of instrumentals in 1968. Using the name ‘Rednow Eivets’ – ‘Stevie Wonder’ backwards – the record slipped out under the radar. An important stepping-stone, it came just a few months after Stevie Wonder jammed with Jimi Hendrix during downtime at the BBC. Uniting two titanic black American talents, the moment was to have a profound impact on Wonder’s career.
6. Stevie Wonder really came of age in 1972 when he released ‘Music Of My Mind’ and ‘Talking Book’ – arguably two of the finest albums ever made – within months of one another. However the success belied almost two years of arguments with Motown boss Berry Gordy who refused to endorse his star’s embrace of the album format. Stevie Wonder won, and shattered chart records.
7. Seriously injured in a 1973 car crash, Stevie would permanently lose his sense of smell, and temporarily lose his sense of taste. Which means that he really is just a walking pair of ears.
10. An early adopter of the Moog synthesiser, Stevie would go on to own the first ever E-mu Emulator – effectively, the first easy-to-afford sampler. Later a staple of the emerging house and techno scenes, Stevie Wonder got there first. Again.
11. Stevie Wonder has met several United States Presidents. Given a special award by Nixon, he was later to blast the Republican on the track ‘You Ain’t Done Nuthin’. However the Motown star was to enjoy more cordial relationships with Barack Obama, who named Stevie Wonder as his favourite artist of all time.
12. In 2005 Kanye West reflected on his own success, saying simply: “I’m not trying to compete with what’s out there now. I’m really trying to compete with ‘Innervisions’ and ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’. It sounds musically blasphemous to say something like that, but why not set that as your bar?” Keep trying, Kanye.
Also published on Medium.