Stevie Wonder has been blessing the world with his divine voice, joyful up-tempo jams and exquisite ballads since he was a preteen. There are very few artists who have had such a long, illustrious and successful career. Wonder is a musical genius whose vast catalogue of songs will be celebrated for many years to come.

Steveland Hardaway Judkins (later Morris) was born six months premature in Saginaw, Michigan, and as a result of receiving too much oxygen in an incubator, he went blind. His disability did not prove to be a hindrance though. As young as 4 years old, Wonder developed an affinity for music, singing in the church choir in Detroit after his family moved there, and later teaching himself to play the harmonica, piano, and drums before the age of 10.

At only 11 years old, Wonder was discovered by Ronnie White of the Motown band the Miracles. He eventually auditioned for Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr., who signed the child prodigy to the record label immediately. Renamed Little Stevie Wonder, the singer dropped a few early singles which did not do well, but the single Fingertips, Part 2, released in 1963 was the breakthrough smash he needed. Two years later, his successful single Uptight (Everything’s Alright) was a Top Ten hit, followed by his cover of Bob Dylan’s antiwar song Blowin’ in the Wind, which reached No. 9 on the pop charts and No. 1 on the R&B charts.  It was also around this time that Wonder dropped Little from his name.

There was no stopping Wonder after that. Now coming into adulthood, he released a slew of hits in the late ’60s and early ’70s that showcased his remarkable talent.  I Was Made to Love Her, For Once in My Life, My Cherie Amour, and Signed, Sealed, Delivered were all chart toppers that made Wonder a household name if he wasn’t one already. After turning 21 in 1972, Wonder renegotiated his Motown contract, making him the label’s first artist to win artistic control over their music.

Between 1972 and 1976, Wonder released several extraordinary albums, Music of My Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions, Fulfullingness’ Finest Hour, and the sprawling, double album Songs in the Key of Life, each just as creative and impassioned as the other.  The albums produced a bevy of hits and treasured classics including Superstition, You Are the Sunshine of My Life, Living for the City, You Haven’t Done Nothin’, Boogie on Reggae Woman, I Wish, Sir Duke, Isn’t She Lovely, and Loves In Need of Love Today.

Wonder also won a number of Grammy awards and received critical acclaim for the albums. Innervisions won three Grammys including Album of the Year, and ranked 24th on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, while Fulfillingness’ Final Hour also won three Grammys, including Album of the Year in 1974. Songs in the Key of Life topped the charts for 14 weeks, took home four Grammys including Album of the Year and Producer of the Year, and also came in 57th on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

The 1980s were a little quieter for Wonder compared to the 70s, but he still managed to crank out hits.  His album Hotter than July yielded the hit Master Blaster in 1980, and Wonder, never the one to shy away from speaking his mind about social issues, successfully led the fight to create a national holiday recognizing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with his song Happy Birthday. In 1982, he partnered with Paul McCartney for the No. 1 single Ebony and Ivory and then in 1984, his song I Just Called to Say I Love You, which he wrote for The Woman In Red movie soundtrack, became Motown’s biggest international hit of all time and earned Wonder an Academy Award for the track.

In 1985, Wonder’s song Part-Time Lover from the album, In Square Circle, reached No. 1 on the pop, R&B, adult contemporary and dance/disco charts. The album won the Grammy for Best R&B Male Vocal Performance.  In 1986, he garnered another No. 1 hit with a collaboration with Dionne Warwick and Elton John with That’s What Friends Are For. The albums Characters in 1987 and the soundtrack to Spike Lee’s film Jungle Fever were moderate successes but still landed on the charts, reaching No. 17 and No. 24 on the charts, respectively. In 1989, Wonder was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy. He also received the Nelson Mandela Courage Award in 1991 and four years later in 1995 released the album Conversation Peace, which he had been working on for several years.

In 2005, Wonder released A Time to Love, his first album in a decade. The album received good reviews and featured guest appearances by Prince, Paul McCartney, India.Arie, EnVogue and his daughter, Aisha Morris. Wonder’s single From the Bottom of My Heart earned him a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

Since then Wonder, has performed at the We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial in January of 2009 and was then awarded the Gershwin Award for Lifetime Achievement at a special ceremony at the White House by President Barack Obama. Wonder continues to be involved in HIV/AIDS awareness and fundraising for blind and mentally disabled children and the homeless.

Stevie Wonder is a pop and R&B icon, a humanitarian, and one of the few artists with over 30 Top 10 hits. He is an exceptionally talented singer and musician whose songs are just as much a part of the American fabric as he is. Everyone has a favorite Stevie Wonder song (or two or three) and we are thankful for him and the wonderful (pun intended) music he’s made.

Happy birthday to ya!

Photo by Thomas Hawk

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