Stevie Wonder

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About Stevie Wonder

An impassioned vocalist, prodigious multi-instrumentalist, and visionary producer, Stevie Wonder is a truly transformative figure in the history of popular music. That he’s accomplished it without his sight is both the most astonishing and least remarkable thing about him. First emerging as a child star in the early ’60s, covering Ray Charles standards under the name Little Stevie Wonder, Stevland Hardaway Judkins (born in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1950) would, by decade’s end, graduate to the more sophisticated soul of Motown-defining singles like “For Once in My Life,” showing future teen idols like Justin Timberlake and Justin Bieber how to gracefully age out of kinder-pop novelty. As Black Power politics seeped into the early-’70s cultural landscape, Stevie became a symbol of both the movement’s righteous indignation and its hope for a more socially just world. His staggering run of classic albums—from 1972’s Talking Book to 1976’s Songs in the Key of Life—helped lend legitimacy to the LP format for black soul/R&B pop artists who, with few exceptions, were wrongly relegated to singles status. With them, he showed how speaking up and getting down were not mutually exclusive ideals, fashioning a singular style of psychedelic funk where even the grittiest tracks, such as “Higher Ground,” were infused with spiritual uplift. (And in writing, performing, and producing much of the material all on his own, he established the model of artist-as-auteur embraced by funk pioneers like Prince and rap icons like Kanye West.) But even in this fruitfully experimental phase, Stevie was still producing eternal wedding slow-dance standards like “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” and “Isn’t She Lovely,” and as the ’80s beckoned, he effortlessly adapted to the times with the synth-slicked soul of “Part-Time Lover” and the irresistible adult-contemporary serenade “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” While his output slowed after the ’90s, he remains a ubiquitous, towering figure in pop: Whether he’s singing at Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration or blowing harmonica on Mark Ronson’s 2015 hit album, Uptown Special, a Stevie Wonder appearance carries all the grandeur and gravitas of a papal blessing.

Saginaw, MI, United States
May 13, 1950
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