Stevie Wonder was born Stevie Hardaway Judkins on May 13, 1950 in Saginaw, Michigan. He has been blind since infancy. When his mother moved out to Detroit along with her children, Judkins was renamed Stevie Hardaway Morris from his mother’s relative’s side. Despite not being able to see, it wasn’t an obstacle for him to pursue his interest in music. When he was young he was already playing a variety of instruments, including piano, harmonica, bass guitar and drums – and Morris taught himself to play them all.
Ronnie White (of The Miracles) discovered the boy prodigy, and this was followed by an audition at Motown. His innate musical talents garnered Morris a recording contract with Motown Records before he even reached puberty. In 1962, Morris was given the stage name of Little Stevie Wonder, and the following year he released his first live album: Little Stevie Wonder The 12 Year Old Genius, which featured the blind youngster’s multifaceted musical talents.
The LP went to #1 on both pop and R&B album charts, thanks to his first charting single – and a #1 hit at that – “Fingertips,” which put Wonder in the limelight. Rather than be complacent with his first flush of success and popularity, Wonder strove to improve his craft by studying classical piano. In 1964, he got rid of the “Little” from his name.
For the rest of the 1960s, Wonder scored other Top 10 pop hits “Uptight (Everything’s All Right),” a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind” (both from his fifth studio album Up-Tight), “A Place In The Sun” (from the album Down to Earth), “I Was Made To Love Her” (from the album of the same title), “For Once In My Life” (from the album of the same title),”My Cherie Amour” and “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday” (both from the album My Cherie Amour).
Ushering in new decade, Wonder had to adjust from a boy musical prodigy into a full-grown and mature adult musician, and still be relevant to his fans and music audiences. In the early 1970s, Wonder’s contract with Motown was renewed and, this time, gave him total creative control over his own material – by then he was starting to write his own tunes.
The 1970s proved to be a more fruitful decade for Wonder, which was highlighted by his biggest hits, among them: “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” and “Heaven Help Us All” (from the 1970 album Signed, Seal and Delivered), “If You Really Love Me” (from the 1971 LP Where I’m Coming From), two #1 hits “Superstition” and “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life (from his 1972 album Talking Book), “Higher Ground and “Living For The City” (both from 1973’s Innervisions), “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” and “Boogie On Reggae Woman” (both from 1974’s Fullfillingness’ First Finale), another pair of #1 singles “I Wish” and “Isn’t She Lovely” (both from 1977’s Songs In The Key Of Life) and “Send One Your Love” (from 1979’s Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants), as well as several other minor hits on the Top 40.
As the 1980s entered, Wonder’s commercial output started to pale in comparison to his successful achievements during the 1970s. Nevertheless, he still attained prestige from his fewer charting singles like “That Girl” (from 1982’s Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium), “Part-Time Lover” and “Go Home” (from 1985’s Square Circle) and his most successful single ,“I Just Called To Say I Love You” which was the soundtrack of the film The Woman In Red. It became a global hit, peaking at #1 in all known charts in several countries, from Australia to Europe. It also won Wonder an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1985.
He collaborated with former Beatle Paul McCartney for the single “Ebony and Ivory” which also went to #1 on the pop charts in 1982.
Wonder has also been a social activist who aired his sentiments through his music. In 1981, he had written and performed a single titled “Happy Birthday” to commemorate the anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., spearheading a major movement that successfully led to the creation of a national holiday recognizing the late 1960s human rights activist.
Since the late 1980s, Wonder’s musical output has been steadily diminishing, and he has only occasionally issued a few singles and compilation “best-of” releases – his last studio album to date was 2005’s A Time For Love (which debuted at #5 on the Billboard 200). But in recent years he has kept himself in considerable enough exposure through his live performances on the stage and on television (most notably on American Idol).
Wonder’s inestimable contributions and his legacy to the music industry assured him of a legendary status, earning him prestigious honors such as the ones from the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1989, as well as a lifetime achievement award from Grammy Awards in 1996.