Cat Stevens

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About Cat Stevens

Many songwriters explored rock’s growing fascination with spirituality in the ’70s, but few would embrace faith as deeply as the Englishman originally known as Cat Stevens. His early singles—such as the soon-to-be-endlessly covered ballad “The First Cut Is the Deepest”—were often dressed in baroque strings, catching the era’s lush pop-meets-psychedelia vibe. But a nearly fatal case of tuberculosis in 1969 found Stevens rethinking not only his ornate music, but also his life’s path forward. He stripped his newly acoustic folk songs of the era’s orchestra-sized excesses to uncover their emotional core, gently leading a generation of listeners through a fraught decade. That warm-and-wise voice captured wistful tales of fraying love (“Wild World”), united crowds with hopeful anthems for social change (“Peace Train”), and sketched family life at its most poignant (“Father and Son”). Stevens spent nearly a decade strumming his way toward enlightenment, but his 1977 conversion to Islam soon ended his career as an introspective pop singer. Decades of public silence and private humanitarian work followed. When he returned in the 2000s as the rechristened Yusuf Islam, his explorations into world music retained the sweetness that left audiences feeling uplifted even when he was crooning the most sorrowful of tunes, while his embrace of religion and self-actualization revealed moving new dimensions to a long-beloved catalog.

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