Blind from birth, Stevie Wonder note
(1950-) first became famous as "Little" Stevie Wonder as a supporting act on the Motown
Records roster. He could play keyboards and various percussion instruments, but it was his harmonica talents that most impressed Berry Gordy, and featured in Wonder's first hit, "Fingertips Part 2" (1963), a live recording of a mostly improptu performance. (Listen closely, and you'll hear the bassist for Martha Reeves and the Vandellas stammering, "What key? What key?" after he got on stage thinking Stevie was done performing.)
Even at his young age, Wonder attempted to be progressive with his singing and song choices, notably his recording the Bob Dylan
song "Blowin' In the Wind" which some at Motown thought was a mistake. While several of his 1960s
hits, particularly "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" and his cover of "For Once In My Life", have proved durable, it's his material starting with 1972's Talking Book
up through 1976's Songs in the Key of Life
that are probably his most popular and critically well regarded. These songs even broke the alleged Album Rock "color barrier", thanks in no small part to his performing the Talking Book
material on a tour with The Rolling Stones
at that time.
Today, Wonder is still revered by many, though his days as a major radio force are over. He's also known for his political activism, up to his very vocal endorsing and supporting of Barack Obama
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Wonder does this hilariously in the intro to "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing".
- Blind Black Guy
- Blind Musician
- Child Popstar: He started when he was seven.
- Child Prodigy: Began his career at a young age and topped the charts with the live album The 12 Year Old Genius. He still holds the record for the youngest artist to get to number one.
- Cover Version: Being both a writer and performer for Motown, this was often inverted. Two examples:
- He wrote "Superstition" with the intention of giving it to Jeff Beck (whom he was collaborating with for the Talking Book album), but his record label released his version first. ...Which went to #1 and became a Signature Song for Stevie.
- And in 1966 (at the age of 16), he wrote "All I Do (Is Think About You)" for Tammy Terrell to record. But it largely flew under the radar; his own version recorded in 1980 is much better known.
- Downer Ending: "Living for the City". In spite of a solid upbringing from two loving parents who taught him responsibility and a strong work ethic, the protagonist of the song is convicted of drug possession after being tricked into being a mule, spends ten years in jail, and winds up destitute.
- Epic Rocking: "Living for the City", "Love's in Need of Love Today", "As", "Another Star".
- The instrumental for "Isn't She Lovely?" runs so long that the song needed to be cut in half for radio play.
- Genre Adultery: 1979's Journey Through "The Secret Life of Plants".
- Handicapped Badass
- I Am the Band: Literally! He plays keyboards, bass, drums, and harmonica. Many songs are all him except for backing vocals, guitar, and horns.
- Lighter and Softer: The majority of his output post-Songs, epitomized in 1983's "I Just Called to Say I Love You."
- Melismatic Vocals
- Protest Song: Released many socially-conscious songs throughout the 1970s.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: "Isn't She Lovely?" is a celebration of the birth of his daughter, Aisha. The song starts with a baby crying and the second half of the song features sound clips of Aisha playing with him.
- Sesame Street Cred: His 1970s appearance on Sesame Street where he performs "Superstition" and the theme song is one of the classic moments of the series.
- Spoken Word In Music: "Living for the City".
- Stop and Go: "Visions".
- Take That: "He's Misstra Know It All" and "You Haven't Done Nothin'", about Richard Nixon.
- Truck Driver's Gear Change: Frequently. "Summer Soft" does this no less than 4 times!
- Uptown Girl: Uptight (Everything Is Alright) by Stevie Wonder.
- Your Cheating Heart: "Lately".