Being a child of the 1970s’ born and raised in the USA, of course I knew who Stevie Wonder was while growing up even though, by the time I was a teenager, he was no longer a trending artist amongst the younger generation per se.

My mom, Gloria J. Hayes, used to play a lot of music, blasting it even.  I remember her particularly favoring the likes of Patti LaBelle, Aretha FranklinShirley Ceasar and The Gospel Keynotes.   More recently, I asked her why she didn’t play any Stevie Wonder while we were growing up.  Her response was ‘I used to play Stevie’, so I guess that maybe I’ve forgotten.

I do remember her playing Ebony and Ivory (1982).  But as for his other well-known tracks of that day, such as I Just Called to Say I Love You (1984) and Happy Birthday, (1980), I likely became aware of them via the TV or radio as, to reiterate, there are certain Stevie Wonder songs that every American (if not global citizen is general) has to be aware of.  But the first time I ever heard any of Wonder’s tracks outside of his singles, oddly enough, was through one of my own agemates, this homey named Dale who’s like a year or two older than I am.

One day, while his mother was at work, Dale invited me and another friend to his crib.  He used the opportunity of those few hours of freedom to smoke a joint and spin Songs in the Key of Life (1976), particularly the second half of the album to my remembrance.  Dale was unusual like that, i.e. while all of our peers were into street music, he rather enjoyed a Stevie album that was dropped a decade earlier and by that time was considered old school.  And I remember sitting there listening to it like ‘wow, I never knew Stevie was on it like that’.

Those songs I mentioned earlier, Stevie’s tracks I was already familiar with, all revolve around sentiments, such as ending racism or appreciating loved ones, which transcend time.  So the way I understood it back then was that he didn’t drop temporal pieces.  And I’m definitely not trying to say that Songs in the Keys of Life is average.  But hearing those other tracks, i.e. the non-singles, let me know that Stevie had a much-wider subject range than I was initially aware of.  So I sorta fell in love with him that day.  And now that I think about it, that initial infatuation was probably fueled by an indirect marijuana high.

Years went by before Stevie and I would once again cross paths.  Early in my freshman year at Hofstra University, one day I was just roaming around the bookstore, which had a rack of cassette tapes.  Hofstra is primarily a White school, and accordingly, to my remembrance, most of the music on that rack, which wasn’t much to begin with, was by Caucasian artists.  But they did have this one Stevie album, For Once in My Life, which by the way was dropped all the way back in 1968.  Normally, I would never patronize music that old.  But I was more experimental back then and, remembering how much I enjoyed Keys of Life, decided to give it a try.

The entirety of For Once in My Life didn’t blow me away, but three of the songs did impress – I Don’t Know Why, I’d Be Fool Right Now and the title track.  So it had enough of an impact to make me go back to the bookstore, looking for other cassettes by Wonder.  And sure enough, he was one of the few musicians who was worthy enough to earn regular presence in Hofstra’s bookstore, with one or two copies of his older works occasionally popping up in stock.  (I learned later down the line that Stevie actually visited Hofstra circa the early 1970s).

By this time cassettes were on the verge of being replaced by compact discs, so that may explain why Hofstra was only carrying Stevie’s earlier works, i.e. those which had yet to make it onto CD.  So the second Stevie album I remember buying was 1966’s Down to Earth, followed by 1969’s My Cherie Amour.  Neither one of those projects knocked my socks off, but the latter does feature Angie Girl which, to this day, ranks amongst my top-five favorite Stevie tracks.  And as for those older albums, before Stevie became a conscious artist and more experienced in the field of romance, the thing that impressed me most consistently was his vocals.

As time progressed, I copped most of Wonder’s 1970s’ albums.  I guess I was pretty unorthodox myself as, even though I was heavily into rap at the time, Stevie, an artist from my mother’s generation, quickly and permanently became my favorite musician.  The aspects of his artistry I came to appreciate most was the quality of his musical output, the fact that he didn’t harp on frivolous or self-destructive topics, his empathy and recognizing that he had a good grip on the diverse emotions associated with being in love.

The funny thing is that the 1990s, when the likes of gangsta rappers and salacious R&B singers came to dominate the African-American music landscape, was actually one of Stevie’s greatest musical decades.  Conversation Peace (1995) is his best studio album to ever come after Keys of Life, and Natural Wonder (1995) is arguably his best-sounding project – so much so that when I introduced a younger homey to it, he instantly became a Wonder fan like myself.

Over the past few years, I’ve been writing for a music blog called Song Meanings and Facts.  A lot of times while researching random songs (i.e. those that were assigned to me), I’d be surprised to discover that Stevie Wonder was somehow involved.  He also tends to be shouted out quite regularly as an inspiration of other famous musicians.  I was even watching a Dave Chapelle special recently where he namedropped Stevie.  So besides for my general love of the singer, that’s another reason I wanted to start this encyclopedia, to concisely document all of such references.

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