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.