Stevland Morris was the ultimate child prodigy. Musically gifted despite being born blind, he was christened Stevie Wonder by Motown Records founder and CEO, Berry Gordy. At the tender age of 13, he recorded his first major hit, a 1962 song entitled “Fingerprints.” It would be the first of many hit records for the prodigy. It would lead to him becoming the first Motown artist to secure his publishing rights. It would also enable him to establish a career that would land him the sixth greatest male R&B singer of all time.
In 1963, Wonder’s aforementioned “Fingertips” went to number one on both the Pop and R&B charts, making Wonder the youngest solo singer ever to have a number one record. Unfortunately, Wonder didn’t come close to another hit for another three years. Then, beginning with 1966’s “Uptight,” Wonder began a string of one classic album and/or song after another. Like his fellow Motown artist Smokey Robinson, Wonder wrote his own music, leading to him becoming the first artist on the label to secure his own publishing rights. Motown founder and CEO Berry Gordy was notorious for fleecing his artists of their royalties. Wonder, with the guidance of his parents, made sure that his songwriting royalties were secured.
In the spring of 1968, Wonder released the song “For Once In My Life.” This song holds a special place in my heart. I was born in 1968 and three months after my birth, my father was incarcerated. That song helped my mother get through this ordeal. That song hit home to her because, as the lyrics state in the song, “For once in my life, I have someone who needs me.” I, as her infant song, was needed to be loved and cared for. For the first time in her life, she had someone who loved her back unconditionally and would not leave her or let her down, especially at a time when my father was incarcerated. Wonder would continue to write and sing about songs that would not only touch emotions, but fuel them as well.
When it comes to singing and writing ballads, few have been better the Stevie Wonder. Classics like “Lately”, “My Cherie Amour”, “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”, “Isn’t She Lovely”, “As”, “Send One Your Love”, and the Oscar winning song, “I Just Called To Say I Love You.” While Stevie never had the strong vocals of a Luther Vandross or Otis Redding, his love songs were powerful because of the emotions that you could hear in his vocals. “Lately,” was one of the most heart wrenching heartbreak songs ever recorded.
Stevie Wonder is one of the few musical geniuses that recorded messages in his music that were both uplifting and spiritual. Songs like “Higher Ground”, “Living for The City”, “Love’s In Need of Love Today’, and “Village Ghetto Land,” reflected the turbulent racial climate of the 1970’s. Wonder has always been one of the few artists that continues to use his fame and stardom to help social change. He was also one of the first to protest the unjust incarceration of Nelson Mandela.
When you look at Wonder’s career, you cannot be less than amazed at how much he has achieved in his 50 plus years recording music. 25 Grammy Awards, 10 Pop number one hits, 20 R&B number one hits, over 100 million records sold, and a member of both the Songwriters and Rock and Roll Hall of fame. A musical genius who despite being blind, never allowed this disability to get in his way of making beautiful music and uplifting several generations of his fans. That is why he is, in my opinion, the sixth greatest R&B male artist of all time.
You cannot mention the greatest soul singers of all time without the inclusion of one of the pioneers of modern soul music, Sam Cooke. If it weren’t for Cooke, modern soul music might never had existed. He is one of the greatest innovators in the history of popular music. A career that I will chronicle throughout this article, as he is the seventh greatest male R&B singer of all time. More
In the summer of 1988, I first heard the song “Two Occasions” on the radio. It was a beautiful ballad in which I was drawn into one of the lead singers voices. The voice in question was a singer named Babyface. The group he sang lead in was called The Deele. They would soon disband. A year later, Babyface would release his second solo album, “Tender Lover”, one of the greatest soul albums of all time and right at the inception of the “New Jack Swing” era, a legendary era that produced some of the greatest music in R&B history. There would be no looking back for Edmonds, as he also began an unprecedented run as both a songwriter and producer.
“Tender Lover” was both a commercial and critical success. The ballads “Whip Appeal” and “Soon As I Get Home” established Babyface’s signature sound; a man who loves his woman with unconditional love. The upbeat tunes, “It’s No Crime” and “Tender Lover” were songs that truly defined the upbeat tempo of the “New Jack Swing” era. Yet it was the final track on the era that was the unsung masterpiece of the album “Where Will We Go”. It’s a song about a man and woman in a platonic friendship. The minute the feelings became romantic, the woman bolted. Babyface sang with so much emotion in that song that to this day, I can’t help get a little emotional when hearing it.
1989 was also the year that Babyface would began his unprecedented run as a songwriter and producer. 1989 was the year Bobby Brown would dominate the music charts with songs like “Don’t be Cruel”, “Tenderoni”‘ and “Rock Witcha” from his album “Don’t be Cruel”. Babyface wrote and produced each hit, garnering him his first Grammy nomination. 1989 would be the precursor to the 1990s, a decade in which Babyface written songs dominated a decade like no other writer before or since.
The 1990s was a decade in which Babyface wrote and produced over 20 number one singles for acts like Whitney Houston, Madonna, Toni Braxton, Boyz II Men, and TLC. He would go on to win 11 Grammy awards for both his own solo releases and those that he wrote for other acts. The list of legendary songs he’s written and produced include “End of the Road” and “I’ll Make Love to You” by Boyz II Men, “Shoop” by Whitney Houston, “Change the World” by Eric Clapton, “Take a Bow” by Madonna, and “Baby, Baby, Baby” by TLC.
As the 21st century began, Babyface stopped writing as much, only writing for selected acts. However, at this past Grammys, he won his 11th Grammy for best R&B album, “Love, Marriage and Divorce”, a duet album with Toni Braxton. This album was one of Babyface’s greatest works, as it was a concept album that dealt with how a marriage crumbles, ultimately ending in divorce. This is one of my favorite albums of the 21st century, an album that helped cement his place as the eighth greatest R&B male singer of all time.
Today, we’re living in a new golden age of television. More
When R Kelly first exploded onto the music scene in the Spring of 1992, he was considered nothing more than a ripoff of Aaron Hall, the lead singer of Guy. With the fancy suits, bald head and sunglasses, he came off as a cheap imitation of Hall. Twenty-two years later, Hall is a washed up R&B singer who can’t get arrested. On the other hand, Kelly has been the single, most successful R&B singer of the last 22 years. Henceforth, his ranking: The ninth greatest R&B male solo artist of all-time. More
In this 10 part series, I will cover the careers of the 10 greatest R&B singers of all time. I will start with number 10: Teddy Pendergrass. More
Throughout my life, there have been so many things that have bothered me. Several questions that have gone unanswered. I like to share some of them with you. More
During the summer of 1982, I first heard one of the greatest rap songs ever made over the radio: “The Message,” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. That song was the first song I ever heard accurately portray life in the inner-cities. That song made me fall in love with hip hop. I first discovered hip hop in the Fall of 79 because of the song “Rapper’s Delight,” by the Sugar Hill Gang. While a great party song, it has never been on the level of “The Message.” During the summer of 1980, I kept playing the records “The Breaks,” by Kurtis Blow and “Super Rhyme,” by Jimmy Spicer. All of these records were party records. “The Message,” was a social conscience song that was ahead of its time. More
Before I embark on the music of the 1980’s, I would like to talk about the music of the 70’s. In my opinion, there has never been a more creative time for music, especially soul music. More