AKA Steveland Morris Judkins Hardaway
Birthplace: Saginaw, MI
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Signed, Sealed, and Delivered
Stevie Wonder is renowned rock-and-roll and rhythm-and-blues composer, lyricist, and performer. He pioneered the use of synthesizers in popular music, and his work has addressed serious issues of race, society, and politics, all while remaining generally optimistic.
Wonder's father was an abusive lout, and his mother was a hard-nosed, sometime hooker. Little Stevie Wonder was born premature and rushed into an incubator, where he received an excess of oxygen, leaving him blind within hours. Worried for his safety, his mother rarely let him out of the house alone, so Wonder amused himself by listening to music on the radio. Soon he was keeping rhythm, and within a few years he was singing in the church choir. He taught himself to play drums and harmonica by the age of five, and started taking piano lessons after that.
His mother once took him to Oral Roberts, hoping for healing, but no miracle was forthcoming. A different kind of miracle came later, when Ronnie White, one of Smokey Robinson's bandmates, passed within earshot while Wonder was performing for friends. White arranged an audition with Berry Gordy at Motown, and Gordy signed the 11-year-old immediately. As "Little Stevie Wonder", his first two albums were moderate successes, and his third album, The 12 Year Old Genius, was a smash. His first hit single, "Fingertips, Part 2", shot to #1 on both the pop and R&B charts in 1962.
The youngster's career went on hiatus as his voice changed, and he studied classical piano at the Michigan School for the Blind. In 1964, he appeared as himself in Bikini Beach and Muscle Beach Party, both starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. Then he dropped the "Little", and co-wrote his next hit, "Uptight (Everything's Alright)". After that, the hits just kept coming, including "I Was Made to Love Her", "For Once in My Life", "My Cherie Amour", "Signed, Sealed, Delivered", and "Heaven Help Us". In his spare time, he also co-wrote "It's a Shame" for the Spinners and "Tears of a Clown" for The Miracles.
In 1968, Wonder recorded an album of harmonica-driven lyricless orchestral arrangements, which Motown wanted as little to do with as possible. They sublet the recordings for release on a different label, as an album by "Eivets Rednow" -- Stevie Wonder, spelled backwards. The album didn't sell well, but Stevie Wonder continued making hits. In 1971, he turned 21, and the trust fund of royalties he'd earned as a child became available to him. His Motown contract had expired, and Wonder used his money to build his own recording studio. He also established his own publishing company (Black Bull Music), and studied music theory at the University of Southern California. He finally signed a new deal with Motown, but with much higher royalties, complete artistic control, and with Wonder, not Motown, owning the rights to his music.
Wonder's Talking Book, including "Superstition" and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life", was released in late 1972, to huge critical and popular acclaim. Innervisions (1973) was a political statement that still successfully rocked, with the ghetto lament "Living for the City" and the spiritual "Higher Ground". In 1973, Wonder sustained severe head injuries in an auto accident, when a log fell on the car he was riding in as it passed a lumber truck. Wonder fell into a coma, but made a full recovery.
His next album included "Boogie On, Reggae Woman" and "You Haven't Done Nothin'", a blistering critique of Richard M. Nixon. Wonder then spent two years in his studio, writing and recording his most ambitious work, a two-LP set called Songs in the Key of Life. It included "Sir Duke" (a tribute to Duke Ellington), "I Wish", and "Isn't She Lovely", a paean to Wonder's newborn daughter. In the years after that remarkable peak, Wonder's recording career has declined. He sang "Ebony & Ivory" with Paul McCartney, and his "Happy Birthday", addressed to Martin Luther King, became an anthem in the drive to have King's birthday declared a national holiday. Wonder wrote his biggest hit, "I Just Called To Say I Love You", for the Gene Wilder comedy, The Woman in Red (1984), winning Wonder an Oscar.
In 2001, Wonder was sued for palimony by his former wardrobe assistant, Angela McAfee. She also claimed he had given her genital herpes during their five-year affair, while never telling her he had the venereal disease. Wonder countersued, claiming McAfee had stolen $160,000 worth of his property and just wanted more, and his agent insisted that Wonder was VD-free. In 2002, the judge strongly suggested that Wonder and McAfee settle out of court, and their lawsuits haven't made headlines since.
Wonder has expressed interest in undergoing "Geordi LaForge surgery", where a microchip is inserted into the retina, converting light into a series of nervous impulses that can be re-processed as images. The procedure is highly experimental, and even if successful, it is expected to give Wonder only a blurry perception of light and color.
Father: Calvin Judkins
Mother: Lula Mae Hardaway Morris (d. 2006)
Wife: Syreeta Wright (singer/songwriter, m. 14-Sep-1970, div. 1972, d. 6-Jul-2004)
Girlfriend: Yolanda Simmons
Wife: Karen Millard-Morris (fashion designer, m. 1-Sep-2001, sep. Oct-2009)
Daughter: Aisha Morris
Son: Keita Morris
Afghanistan World Foundation Celebrity Committee
Endorsement of Hohner harmonica (1964)
Hollywood Walk of Fame 7050 Hollywood Blvd. (recording)
Songwriters Hall of Fame 1983
Oscar for Best Music Original Song 1985 for I Just Called to Say I Love You
Golden Globe 1985 for I Just Called to Say I Love You (best song)
Kennedy Center Honor 1999
Polar Music Prize 1999
Gershwin Prize 2009
Funeral: Martin Luther King (1968)
Coma 6-Aug-1973 (following automobile accident, comatose one week)
Birthday: Elizabeth Taylor (1992)
Wedding: Eddie Murphy and Nicole Mitchell (1993)
Risk Factors: Blindness
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Transcendent Man (5-Nov-2009) · Himself
America: A Tribute to Heroes (21-Sep-2001) · Himself
We Are the World (28-Jan-1985) · Himself
Cocksucker Blues (1972) · Himself
Bikini Beach (22-Jul-1964) · Himself
Muscle Beach Party (25-Mar-1964) · Himself
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