A legend in musical circles, Stevie Wonder is without a doubt one of the most gifted musicians of our generation. His talent is renowned across the world, playing sensational shows in every city imaginable across the globe. After his incredible 4 hours at BST Hyde Park over the summer, his reputation has only increased, and he’s recently featured in the Sing Motion Picture soundtrack, with Ariana Grande collaborating on his effort. For one of the biggest names in music, it’s onwards and upwards.
1. While most know he’s blind, not many can name the reason why this is. When Stevie was born, as Steveland Hardaway Judkins, he was premature by 6 weeks, which meant the stunted growth of the blood vessels in the back of his eyes caused his retinas to detach. Pumping oxygen into the incubator only served as more damage, which left the infant blind pretty much from birth.
2. At age 11 it was already clear that young Stevie had bags of musical talent: blindness was never going to get in this boy’s way. In fact, soon after he could walk he began trying instrument one by one, and by the time he hit that age he’d mastered piano, harmonica, drums and the bass guitar. In an audition for Motown Records, he left the founder Berry Gordy wanting to sign him on the spot.
3. Aged just 13, Stevie made his first ever appearance on the Billboard charts. His own cut of the song ‘Fingertips’ was in fact the first live track to ever appear on the list. The boy on the drums? Marvin Gaye.
4. As soon as this happened, Stevie’s fame suddenly rocketed. Being offered some of the finest music tutors in history, he learned under Diana Ross and Smokey Robinson, who exacerbated his gift, taking him to the next levels of the music business. Covering Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ in 1964, he broke the boundaries of Motown and opened his name up to the whole world.
5. Always making sure to pick up on new studio technology so he is the first to use the freshest sounds in music, Stevie Wonder hit one of his many peaks when he released the two albums Music Of My Mind and Talking Book within a few months of each other. However, this move led to copius arguments with Berry Gordy, who saw the album format as dying. After winning a 2 year battle with him, Stevie continued to release albums and broke chart records left right and centre.
6. 1973 saw Stevie in a huge car crash, which led to him temporarily losing his sense of taste, and his sense of smell permanently. A blessing and a curse, he has stated that this has only served for him to fine-tune is already bountiful talent of music further.
7. House Music often uses sampling techniques and synthesisers to give the tracks their unique, futuristic and often mythical sound. The Moog was the first one which was used, and is continued to be used today. Stevie was a prolific user of this synth, and also owned the world’s first sampler: the E-mu Emulator. Once again, he got there first with perfecting unique sounds.
8. Meeting several US Presidents, he made headlines after meeting the Republican Richard Nixon, when he wrote the track ‘You Ain’t Done Nuthin’, which blasted the President’s politics. However he’s also found friendship with the White House after Barack Obama said that Stevie’s music was his favourite.
9. Kanye West once compared his music to Stevie’s, saying that he’s not trying to compete with what’s being produced today as there’s nothing as groundbreaking. “I’m really trying to compete with ‘Innervisions’ and ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’. It sounds musically blasphemous to say something like that, but why not set that as your bar?” Sounds like a great situation to place yourself in when in the studio, but looks like we’re yet to see results…
10. Saying that, many have compared Frank Ocean to Stevie Wonder, as they are both associated with R&B and are continuously looking to break the boundaries of music, while changing the world with their sound. Around the time of Channel Orange, Stevie and Frank actually met, which saw Stevie sing a rendition of the track ‘No Church In The Wild’ to the young producer.
11. While recently the Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro have been allegedly asked to perform on Sesame Street, Stevie was one of the first performers on the show with ‘Superstition’. Remarkably, this live performance is regarded as one of his best, with the intensity of the song cranked up a notch and a 3 minute jam session incorporated halfway through. The kids dancing in the front of the set is something to behold, too.
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