Black History Month Artist Highlights: Stevie Wonder

Listen to Stevie Wonder on Spotify

Of the countless American musicians to come out of the 20th century, Stevie Wonder is far and above one of the most influential. Wonder, born Stevland Hardaway Judkins, began his musical journey singing in the choir of his childhood Baptist church. Undeterred by his blindness, which was a result of complications at his birth, he flourished as a musician, eventually performing his own song for Ronnie White of legendary R&B group The Miracles. The performance got Stevland an audition and subsequent record deal at Motown's Tamla label.

Breaking onto the scene as Little Stevie Wonder at only 11 years old, he immediately began producing music with the help of Motown's Clarence Paul. While Wonder found little success in the beginning, his continual efforts and improvement brought him some notoriety with the release of Fingertips in 1962. Hitting #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, Wonder became the youngest person to top the charts at only 12 years old.

This would be but a small glimpse into the wildly successful career that Wonder would have. The late 1960's saw Wonder begin to produce hits on a more regular basis with For Once in My Life, Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours, and My Cherie Amour.

The cover to Songs In The Key Of Life,
which won 1977's Grammy for album of the year

Entering his 20's in 1970, Stevie Wonder would truly come into his own as an artist. Now producing most of his own music on his own, Wonder renegotiated a more fair contract with Motown Records and soon began releasing his most successful albums to date. Going for a more experimental sound, Wonder worked with synthesizers in many of his songs, a first for R&B. His subsequent albums would be much more consistent thematically, which was uncommon for the genre. Talking Book, released in 1972 had two #1 hits: You Are The Sunshine Of My Life and Superstition, which is still Wonder's most popular song. Both songs went on to win awards at that year's Grammys.

Finding further success in following albums Innervisions and Fulfillingness' First Finale, which both won album of the year when they were released, Wonder's biggest success was yet to come. In 1976, Songs In The Key Of Life was the culmination of Wonder's classic period. The album debuted at the top of the charts, and stayed at the top for more than three months. I Wish and Sir Duke both topped pop/R&B charts, and the double-album quickly became Wonder's crowning achievement. Sir Duke, the most popular song from the album, served as an ode to jazz greats like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Ella Fitzgerald, that inspired him as a growing musician. The lyrically complex and socially conscious album explored themes of parenthood, poverty, and piety, and went on to win three Grammys, including album of the year.

During his career, Stevie Wonder has amassed 25 Grammy awards and countless more nominations. Several of his albums made Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of all time, with Songs In The Key Of Life at number 4. In his older years, he has continued to release music, but at a slower rate than his peak in the 1970's. However, his undeniable talent and trailblazing spirit has had an undeniable impact on not only R&B, but popular music as a whole.

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