Stevie Wonder officially entered this world on 13 May 1950.  His birth name is Stevland Hardaway Judkins, and he was born in St. Mary’s Hospital in a part of Michigan known as Saginaw.  That first name illustrates that he’s from a true African-American family if you will, i.e. the type in which a child can be given a name that his moms made up.

Unfortunately, little Stevland went through some complications at birth which deprived him of the ability to see.  But many people have theorized that very misfortune is what has made him such an extraordinary and compassionate musician.

Lula Mae Hardaway + Stevie Wonder (1969)

Stevie Wonder’s mother was the late Lula Mae Hardaway (1930-2006).  Lula was also a professional musician, in that she actually co-wrote a number of songs from early in his career.

Calvin Judkins Jr.

Stevie Wonder’s dad was the late Calvin Judkins Jr. (1904-1976).  He reportedly passed away at the age of 72 in 1976.  If that’s true, that means Calvin was 45 years old when Stevie was born and was over a generation older than Lula, who was only 20 at the time.

STEVIE'S EARLY CHILDHOOD

When coming into this world, Stevie experienced what may be called am early-to-late preterm birth, more specifically meaning, in this case, that he was born six weeks too soon..  Such babies are at the threat of dying, and one common treatment to prevent that from happening is by placing the child in what is called a neonatal intensive care unit.  A regular part of this treatment is giving the baby oxygen.

Unfortunately, doing can result in the child developing retrolental fibroplasia (RLF), which is a disease of the eye.  And in extreme cases, such as that of Stevie, RLF can lead to blindness.

When coming into this world, Stevie experienced what may be called am early-to-late preterm birth, more specifically meaning, in this case, that he was born six weeks too soon..  Such babies are at the threat of dying, and one common treatment to prevent that from happening is by placing the child in what is called a neonatal intensive care unit.  A regular part of this treatment is giving the baby oxygen.

Unfortunately, doing can result in the child developing retrolental fibroplasia (RLF), which is a disease of the eye.  And in extreme cases, such as that of Stevie, RLF can lead to blindness.

Stevie stood out musically from a young age.  He served as a soloist at Whitestone Baptist Church in Detroit at just eight years old.  He also began playing a number of instruments – the harmonica, drums and piano – during his prepubescent years.  Stevie proved so talented that was able to land a five-year contract with Motown Records (which at the time was also based in Detroit) in 1961, i.e. the year in which he turned 11.  It was then that the decision was made to legally change his last name from Judkins to Morris, the latter being “an old family name”, according to Lula Mae.  So since then, the singer’s legal name has been Stevland Hardaway Morris.    Also, he was given the stage moniker “Little Stevie Wonder” by Motown employee Clarence Paul.  And since he was so young, the royalties from his contract were placed in a trust fund, which he could not access until he turned 21.

STEVIE'S EARLY CAREER

Stevie’s first three singles – I Call It Prety Music but the Old People Call It the Blues, Little Water Boy and Contract on Love, – all of which were dropped in 1962, failed to chart.  It wasn’t until his fourth single, Fingertips – Part 2 , that he scored a hit, with the single topping the Hot 100 as well as Billboard’s R&B chart.

Concerning Stevie’s next seven singles, beginning with 1963’s Workout Stevie, Workout and concluding with 1965’s Hi-Heel Sneakers, some of them managed to chart, but none did nearly as well as Fingertips – Part 2.  Also in 1964, Wonder appeared in a couple of Hollywood films, Bikini Beach and Muscle Beach Party, both starring Frankie Avalon, which likewise flopped.  Concurrently, the young singer was going through puberty, a phenomenon which almost invariably results in one’s voice changing.  All of those factors combined had the executives at Motown contemplating dropping him from the label.  But it was Sylvia Moy, one of the label’s songwriters, who convinced them (and Berry Gordy in particular) otherwise.

Moy went on to play a major role in the first decade of Stevie’s career.  For example, she co-wrote Uptight (Everything’s Alright), the title track of his fifth-studio album, with both the single and the LP proving to be notable successes.  During the recording of the song Moy live-fed him the lyrics (i.e. singing them herself), since they didn’t have the opportunity to render them in braille.  Moy, alongside Henry Cosby, proceeded to co-wrote many, if not most of Stevie’s singles of the latter half of the 1960s, including My Cherie Amour (1969), which is widely considered the signature track of his early career.

 

Standing between Berry Gordy and Stevie Wonder is Johanan Vigoda, the lawyer who successfully helped Stevie renegotiate his contract in 1971.

"THE CLASSIC ERA"

Stevie Wonder signed his first recording contract at 11 years old.  It was a very lopsided deal, which one study described as “slavery”, in favor of Motown.

Stevie renewed his contract with Motown in 1966, the year he turned 16.  There was a clause upon which he could void it when he turned 21, which Wonder opted to do upon reaching that age in 1971.  It is said during that time, while he was briefly an independent artist, Stevie recorded a couple albums on his own.  Apparently, one of those was Where I’m Coming From, and the other may have been Music of My Mind.  Both were eventually released through Motown, respectively in 1971 and 1972.

Around the time he was re-negotiating his contract, there was a bidding war for Stevie’s services, besides Motown wanting to retain him.  In other words, Wonder had leverage on his side.  So he knew upon re-signing with Berry Gordy and co., they had no choice but to accept the music he had already put together without their input, i.e. Where I’m Coming From and the works which were to come after it.

Reportedly, Stevie felt as if he was being cheated by Motown.  Furthermore, he was under the impression that Motown’s executives couldn’t understand “where (he was) coming from” (i.e. the name of the album).  Besides wanting a fairer share of the proceeds from his works, Wonder also craved holistic artistic freedom.  In other words, upon re-signing with Motown, Wonder secured full creative control of his music, besides higher royalties and other financial perks.  Or as Medium put it, he signed what was akin to “the first 360 deal” in American music industry history.

Therefore, 1971 also marked the end of Stevie’s behind-the-scenes collaborations with the likes of Motown employees Sylvia MoyHenry Cosby and the Funk Brothers, who were heavily involved in the first decade of his career.  They came to be replaced by musicians such as Malcolm Cecil, Robert Margouleff and Yvonne Wright, who Wonder regularly worked with during his “classic era”.

Where I’m Coming From, wasn’t particularly memorable.  For instance, it peaked at #62 on the Billboard 200, the lowest of any Stevie Wonder studio album released after the 1960s.  The two singles issued from the project were Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer and If You Really Love Me.  The latter sounds like something Stevie would have released during the 1960s, though the former went on to become sort of a classic.

As such, 1972’s Music of My Mind is generally considered to be the unofficial onset of the “classic era” of Wonder’s career.  Stevie may have gone on to drop more signature hits in the 1980s.  But it was circa the early 1970s that he was winning Grammys like crazy and really established himself as a music legend with longevity.

Most musicians don’t survive transitioning from one musical era into another, such as when you consider 1960s’ African-American music as compared to that of the 1970s.  But Wonder went from a child star to helping define the sound of his generation as an adult.  Perhaps it can be argued that starting so young was advantageous to his career.  If Stevie had rather become a professional as an older teenager or adult, maybe he would have been more artistically confined to a particular style.

Music of My Mind, which reached #21 on the Billboard 200, wasn’t necessarily a major success.  But it did establish the stylistic leanings upon which Stevie would go on to drop his greatest works.

What followed was 1972’s Talking Book.  Two tracks from that album won Grammy Awards in 1974.  You Are the Sunshine of My Life took home the trophy for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male, while Superstition garnered two, Best Rhythm & Blues Song and Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male.  Those were the first Grammys Stevie had ever won in his career.  And interesting to note is that Wonder toured with The Rolling Stones during the recording of Talking Book, as he wanted to extend his recognition beyond the R&B genre.  Or put otherwise, Stevie wasn’t afraid to spread his wings and experiment.

The three studio projects that followed – Innervisions (1973), Fulfillingness’ Final Finale (1974) and Songs in the Keys of Life (1976) – all earned their own respective Album of the Year Grammy Awards.  The last of those three is considered to be Stevie Wonder’s signature work.  He had such an amazing run during the 1970s that Wonder set a couple of Grammy records, the likes of which may never be broken, in the process.

AWARDS WON BY STEVIE WONDER

1974

  • Grammy Award (Album of the Year) – Innervisions
  • Grammy Award (Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male) – You Are the Sunshine of My Life
  • Grammy Award (Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male) – Superstition
  • Grammy Award (Best Rhythm & Blues Song) – Superstition

1975

  • Grammy Award (Album of the Year)Fulfillingness’ Final Finale
  • Grammy Award (Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male)Fulfillingness’ Final Finale
  • Grammy Award (Best Producer of the Year)
  • Grammy Award (Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male)Boogie on Reggae Woman
  • Grammy Award (Best Rhythm & Blues Song)Living for the City

1977

  • Grammy Award (Album of the Year)Songs in the Keys of Life
  • Grammy Award (Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male)Songs in the Keys of Life
  • Grammy Award (Best Producer of the Year)
  • Grammy Award (Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male)I Wish

1978

  • Howard University (Doctor of Humane Letters)

1983

  • Songwriters Hall of Fame

1985

  • Academy Award (Best Original Song) – I Just Called to Say I Love You
  • Golden Globe Award (Best Original Song – Motion Picture)I Just Called to Say I Love You.

1986

  • American Music Award (Favorite Soul/R&B Artist)
  • Grammy Award (Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male)In Square Circle

1987

  • Brown University (Doctor of Music)
  • Grammy Award (Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal)That’s What Friends Are For w/ Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight & Elton John
  • Soul Train Award (Heritage Award for Career Achievement)
  • Xavier University of Louisiana (Doctor of Humane Letters)

1989

  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

1992

  • ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards (Most Performed Songs from Motion Pictures)Jungle Fever

1994

  • Hollywood Walk of Fame

1996

  • Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award
  • University of Alabama at Birmingham (Doctor of Music)

1997

  • ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards (Most Performed Songs from Motion Pictures)Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio

1999

  • Grammy Award (Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals)St. Louis Blues by Herbie Hancock
  • Grammy Award (Best Male R&B Vocal Performance)St. Louis Blues by Herbie Hancock
  • Kennedy Center Honor
  • Polar Music Prize
  • Rutgers University (Doctor of Fine Arts)

2000

  • ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards (Most Performed Songs from Motion Pictures)Wild Wild West by Will Smith

2003

  • Grammy Award (Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal)Love’s in Need of Love Today w/ Take 6

2004

  • Songwriters Hall of Fame: Johnny Mercer Award

2006

  • National Civil Rights Museum (Lifetime Achievement Award)
  • Grammy Award (Best Male Pop Vocal Performance) – From the Bottom of My Heart
  • Grammy Award (Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal)So Amazing w/ Beyonce

2007

  • Grammy Award (Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals) – For Once in My Life w/ Tony Bennett

2008

  • NAACP Image Award (Hall of Fame Award)

2009

  • The Gershwin Prize
  • United Nations Messenger of Peace

2014

  • Presidential Medal of Freedom

2010

  • Oberlin College (Doctor of Music)

2011

  • Tulane University (Doctor of Fine Arts)

2014

  • Northwestern University (Doctor of Arts)

2016

  • City of Detroit (Key to the City)

2017

  • Yale University (Doctor of Music)

2022

  • Wayne State University (Doctor of Humane Letters)

2023

  • Fordham University (Doctor of Humane Letters)

2024

  • George Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Music and Dance in America
  • John Hopkins University (Doctor of Humane Letters)

RECORDS HELD BY STEVIE WONDER

  • In 1989, at the age of 38, Stevie Wonder became the youngest inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • Stevie Wonder holds the record (alongside Paul Simon, Frank Sinatra and Taylor Swift) for having won the most Grammy Awards for Album of the Year, at three.
  • Stevie Wonder is one of only two musicians (alongside Sinatra) to have won Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards for two-consecutive years.  He did so in 1974 with Innervisions (1973) and in 1975 with Fulfillingness’ Final Finale (1974).
  • Stevie Wonder is the only musician in history to have dropped three-consecutive studio albums – Innervisions (1973), Fulfillingness’ Final Finale (1974) and Songs in the Keys of Life (1976) – to have won Grammy Awards for Album of the Year.  The artist who has come closest to replicating that feat is Adele, who released two in a row that won.

SOURCES

STEVIE’S EARLY CHILDHOOD

Stevie WonderWikipedia.  Last edited on 3 January 2024.

Preterm BirthWikipedia.  Last edited on 17 January 2024.

Neonatal Intensive Care UnitWikipedia.  Last edited on 9 January 2024.

Taylor Knight.  It’s Our Turn to Sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to the Legendary Stevie WonderNew York Post.  15 May 2022.

Stevie Wonder Fast FactsCNN.  1 May 2023.

STEVIE’S EARLY CAREER

Stevie WonderWikipedia.  Last edited on 22 March 2024.

Stevie Wonder discographyWikipedia.  Last edited on 2 March 2024.

Sylvia MoyWikipedia.  Last edited on 12 January 2024.

“THE CLASSIC ERA”

The Oral History of Stevie Wonder’s Classic Period | Part Idxcegame.  19 June 2020.

Adam White.  Stevie Wonder, Motown, and the First ‘360 Deal’Medium.  3 October 2016.

Where I’m Coming FromWikipedia.  Last edited on 27 March 2023.

“Stevie Wonder”.  Wikipedia.  Last edited on 24 May 2024.

“The Rolling Stones American Tour 1972”.  Wikipedia.  Last edited on 18 May 2024.

AWARDS WON BY STEVIE WONDER

Stevie WonderWikipedia.  Last edited on 24 May 2024.

Stevie Wonder – AwardsIMDb.  Accessed on 7 June 2024.

Stevie WonderSongwriters Hall of Fame.  Accessed on 2 June 2024.

That’s What Friends Are ForWikipedia.  Last edited on 5 June 2024.

Stevie WonderHollywood Walk of Fame.  Accessed on 6 June 2024.

Stevie WonderPolar Music Prize.  Accessed on 2 June 2024.

Love’s in Need of Love TodayWikipedia.  Last edited on 3 February 2024.

Freedom AwardNational Civil Rights Museum.  Accessed on 6 June 2024.

Stevie Wonder | Honorees | The Gershwin PrizeLibrary of Congress.  Accessed on 2 June 2024.

United Nations Messengers of PeaceWikipedia.  Last edited on 4 April 2024. 

Paul Grein.  Stevie Wonder, Misty Copeland Received George Peabody Medals for Outstanding Contributions to Music & Dance in AmericaBillboard.  24 May 2024.

RECORDS HELD BY STEVIE WONDER

Jan. 18 in Music History: Stevie Wonder Joins Rock and Roll Hall of FameThe Current.  18 January 2024.

Grammy Award for Album of the YearWikipedia.  Last edited on 21 January 2024.