Stevie Wonder has got to be one of the most fascinating musicians I’ve ever come across.
Starting as a child prodigy, Wonder signed his first record deal at age 11 just a few years after learning his various musical instruments including piano, harmonica and drums.
Considering his age when he started, Wonder was very much the Justin Bieber of his generation. Growing up a teenage popstar who girls admired and desired in equal measure, ‘Little’ Stevie Wonder became the youngest to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart at age 13 with “Fingertips”. As his voice broke with age, he was still able to mature his vocal ability with the aid of mentor Clarence Paul, releasing hit “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Your’s” when he was 20, narrowly avoiding the puberty curse that halts other child-stars’ careers.
Over the next decade Wonder had faith in his own creativity, allowing his Motown contract to expire and going on to independently record two more albums. Upon resigning with the notorious label, Wonder was granted “a full-length artistic statement” of an album, breaking the mold of just singles and B sides at the time. From this period came hits such as Superstition and Higher Ground, songs that are played in cover’s bands to this day. Wonder was synonymous with his Grammy success; Paul Simon even said upon his 1976 Grammy for Best Album “I’d like to thank Stevie Wonder for not making an album this year“. Wonder’s crowning achievement “Songs In The Key Of Life” boasted notable singles such as “I Wish” and “Sir Duke”, and was 57th in Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Despite his artistic prime, the 1980’s saw Stevie achieve greater notoriety through his socio-political activism, successfully campaigning for making Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday, as well as his collaborative efforts such as “Ebony and Ivory”. His career from the 90’s onward had slowed down somewhat, but he still carries forth an enduring legacy after debuting over 50 years ago.
The best comparison I can make to Stevie Wonder thus far is Justin Bieber. From humble beginnings busking in London, Ontario, to becoming an internet phenomenon with single “Baby”, Bieber had all eyes on him as he developed from cute teenager to charming adult, but not without his controversies. Thus far he has enjoyed a 10 year career, but it is tough to realistically foresee him achieving similar success over the next 20 years.
And I haven’t yet mentioned the fact that Stevie’s blind! Whenever I hear his music my first thoughts are “oh awesome it’s Stevie Wonder”, followed by “This is an awesome tune”, and it often takes me a good 2 minutes to remember that factoid about his disability. I find it rather inspiring when looking at someone’s skill, rather than being good in spite of something, you can be great full stop. Stevie Wonder isn’t “great for a blind man”, he’s great, end of story. This man’s legendary and enduring journey, combined with his musical legacy highlights the joy of putting musicality first and foremost.