Stevie Wonder, originally named as Steveland Judkins or Steveland Morris, is an American singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. This child prodigy developed into one of the most creative musical figures of the late 20th century. He was the first Motown artist to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Born Stevland Hardaway Judkins in Saginaw, Michigan, U.S., in 1950, Stevie lost his sight shortly after birth. He was six weeks premature, which, along with the oxygen-rich atmosphere in the hospital incubator, resulted in a condition that resulted in complete blindness. Wonder has often said that he doesn’t know what it meant to have the gift of sight, so he doesn’t miss it.
At 4, his parents split, and he went to live in Detroit with his mother, who worked as a maid.
Stevie’s first instrument was a harmonica given to him by an uncle. He learned to play along to songs he heard on the radio, inspired by blues bandleaders like Bobby Bland and Jimmy Reed. His next instrument became the drums – he received a second-hand kit for Christmas. The piano came later – he learned to play on a neighbor’s piano. So taken was he learning to play that when the neighbor moved away, he left the piano in Stevie’s possession.
Stevie’s big break came when a member of Smokey Robinson’s band, The Miracles, heard him singing at a function. He recommended Stevie Wonder to the talent scouts at The Motown Record label. At an audition, he managed to blow them away with his virtuosity. The Supremes – then the youngest act on Motown – could only watch in amazement. Wonder signed Motown at 11 years old. His weekly allowance was $2.50.
Highlights of his career
When Little Stevie Wonder was 13 years old, he rose to fame with his first U.S. Number One Single, “Fingertips.” He remains the youngest solo artist to top The Billboard Chart. As well as performing as a Motown act, Stevie also worked penning songs. He wrote “Tears Of A Clown” for Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. In September 1976, the double album ‘Songs in the Key of Life became the first by an American artist to debut straight at No. 1 in the Billboard charts, a position it for 14 weeks.
Wonder was the first Motown artist to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song, which he won for his 1984 hit single “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” which featured in the movie ‘The Woman in Red.’ Stevie Wonder has achieved ten U.S. number-one hits on the pop charts and has sold over 100 million records. He is one of the top 60 best-selling music artists with combined sales of singles and albums.
No solo artist can match Wonder for success at The Grammys. He won the best album award in successive years for Innervisions (1975) and ‘Fulfillingness’ First Finale’ (1976) and has 25 awards in all. At the 2015 Grammys, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Stevie Wonder sang at the Michael Jackson memorial service in 2009, at Etta James’ funeral, in 2012, and a month later at Whitney Houston’s memorial service. He has also performed at happier high-profile events, including The 2005 Live 8 concert in Philadelphia, the Super Bowl in 2006, the Obama Inaugural Celebration in 2009, the 1996 Summer Olympics closing ceremony.
His notable works include working as an activist for political causes, including his 1980 campaign to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a holiday in the United States. Stevie Wonder wrote and released his 1980 single “Happy Birthday” for the campaign.