No celebration of soul music is complete without reference to Stevie Wonder, one of the most precocious soul musicians and singer-songwriters of all time. Since the release of Fingertips (Part One) and Uptight (Everything’s Alright) in 1963 and 1964, he cemented his reputation as one of Motown’s best known acts. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, continued success on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean saw him become part of soul music’s royalty along with Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding.
Born Stevland Hardaway Judkins on the 13 May 1950, he was born six weeks premature and was blind from birth. At the age of eleven he was signed to the Tamla label, after playing piano, harmonica and drums on street corners and parties. His own composition Lonely Boy attracted the attention of Ronnie White, of The Miracles.
The name Stevie Wonder – which at the start of his career was Little Stevie Wonder – was adopted by producer Clarence Paul. At the age of thirteen, his first smash in the US was Fingertips (Part One), a track from his début album entitled Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius. In the UK, his breakthrough chart single was Uptight (Everything’s Alright).
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Stevie Wonder became a huge success with hits like For Once In My Life, Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday and My Cherie Amour popular worldwide. The 1970s also saw a transitional period where the artiste was given extra creative freedom. The result of a new contract with Motown Records would usher in the much appreciated Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life albums.
Towards the 1980s his popularity rose with Master Blaster, Lately and Happy Birthday being Top Five singles. In September 1984, he got his first and (to date) only UK Number One single as a solo artiste. I Just Called to Say I Love You was a UK Number One for six weeks. From the soundtrack album of The Woman in Red (also written by Stevie himself), it went platinum in UK singles charts.
After The Woman in Red soundtrack, he continued to release singles and albums though at a slower rate. These would include Part Time Lover and Overjoyed. His last album was A Time to Love, released in 2005. As well as being one of the world’s most influential soul musicians and songwriters, he has been recognised for his work in the Civil Rights Movement. He has gained a lifetime achievement award from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.
Stevie Wonder has recorded more than 30 Top Ten hits in the US Billboard Charts with 18 Top Ten hits in the UK singles charts. He has also duetted with Paul McCartney (on his first UK Number One single Ebony and Ivory) and with Michael Jackson (in their 1988 single Get It). He has also guested on Jermaine Jackson’s 1980 hit Let’s Get Serious and provided backing vocals on The Crown, Gary Byrd and the GB Experience’s only UK Top Ten hit in 1983.
We at Madison Heights think you should have at least one of the albums in your collection below. If you see Songs in the Key of Life for less than a fiver, we urge you to snap it up right now. Before we do (though we may already have a copy somewhere).
The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie (1962);
Songs in the Key of Life (1976);
Hotter Than July (1980);
The Woman in Red (1984).
There is loads to choose from, but here is some of our favourites:
Fingertips (Part 1 and 2) (1963);
Uptight (Everything’s Alright) (1966);
I Was Made to Love Her (1967);
My Cherie Amour (1969);
I Just Called to Say I Love You (1984).
What we love about Stevie Wonder is his strength in depth. His ballads as well as his more energetic numbers. His works have an innate ability to move audiences whatever the mood.
Though good with the speakers and great with a set of headphones, it is even better performed live. This is where Madison Heights come to the fore. If you’ve previously been uptight about booking a suitable wedding band, or a band for corporate events, don’t panic. We can get the party started.