Stevie Wonder was born Steveland Judkins unfortunately burdened with a dislocated nerve in his right eye and a cataract in his left. Still, Stevie was blessed with an amazing gift for music. Blinded nearly from birth, young Stevie was forced to take in his Saginaw, Michigan surroundings solely through his auditory senses. While his distraught mother often took him to see spiritual healers, Stevie himself made peace with his affliction and continually worked to sharpen his other senses.
As a child, Stevie’s mother often kept him indoors in an effort to protect him. To deal with the boredom, he began playing rhythm on pots and tabletops around the house. His mother, noticing his natural musical talent, bought him a harmonica and signed him up for the local church choir. Stevie’s obvious talent shined brightly, and soon even his neighbors were eager to help him out. They gave him his first piano and a set of drums.
The young boy was well known in his Detroit neighborhood for carrying his portable radio at all times, listening to Jazz, R & B and his favorite artist, B. B. King. Stevie also began to play music on his front porch with neighborhood kids, one of whom happened to be John Glover, the cousin of Ronnie White, a member of the Motown group, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles. On a summer day in 1961, Ronnie saw 11-year-old Stevie playing his harmonica and singing. Impressed, he set up an audition with Motown Records founder Berry Gordy. Upon hearing him play, a dazzled Gordy announced, “Boy! That kid is a wonder!” and the nickname stuck.
Little Stevie Wonder began to tour with the other Motown acts and became a favorite of other artists for his upbeat attitude and mischievous practical jokes. He also entertained everyone with impersonations of Berry Gordy and all the Motown acts. Not even a teenager, Stevie Wonder was already on a path to stardom.
Following the release of two unsuccessful albums in the early 1960’s, Stevie had a huge hit with “Fingertips Pt. 2” in 1963. The recording featured Wonder on vocals and harmonica with future Ed Sullivan Show guestMarvin Gaye playing the drums. It quickly became the 13-year-old’s first #1 smash. It was an unforgettable hit and was heard non-stop across the nation that summer.
Stevie Wonder first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on May 3, 1964. Following a set by Gerry and The Pacemakers on The Ed Sullivan Show, Ed introduced the young performer as “Detroit’s amazing 13-year-old singing star.” As the lights went on, an exuberant Stevie took the stage with his harmonica in hand. He performed “Fingertips Pt 2” and his boundless energy came shining through. Soon the teenage sensation had the audience clapping along with him. That Sunday evening, the nation witnessed a truly inspirational performance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Four years later, a more adult Stevie Wonder returned to The Ed Sullivan Show. Only eighteen, sporting a blue suit and tie, Stevie performed a medley that featured “You Met Your Match,” an instrumental version of “Alfie” and his latest hit “For Once in My Life.” Following the soulful harmonica rendition of “Alfie,” Stevie put everything into “For Once in My Life.” Displaying the raw passion for music that poured out of him, Wonder set the stage on fire.
Stevie Wonder remains an active musician and recording artist almost 50 years after starting his remarkable career. He has made the Top 40 charts 46 times, with 28 Top 10 hits and 10 #1s. He has influenced countless artists and collaborated with the Elton John, Michael Jackson, The Beach Boys and Paul McCartney. Stevie was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. He has been awarded 25 Grammys and their Lifetime Achievement Award as well as an Academy Award for “I Just Called to Say I Love You” from The Woman In Red. He is a Kennedy Center Honoree and a recipient of the George & Ira Gershwin Lifetime Achievement Award. He is truly a legend!
Stevie Wonder will forever be known as one of the greatest songwriters and performers in music history, as well as an inspiration to anyone trying to overcome obstacles in life. His is undoubtedly one of our greatest artists.