Friday, May 3rd, 2024

Celebrating 60 years with Stevie Wonder: A Wonder-Filled Legacy 

Six decades ago, this May 3rd the world witnessed a moment of music history when 13-year-old Stevie Wonder graced the stage of The Ed Sullivan Show. Little did the audience know they were witnessing the emergence of a musical legend whose impact would resonate for generations to come. This milestone anniversary offers a wonderful opportunity to delve into the remarkable journey of Stevie Wonder, his extraordinary talent and expansive living legacy.  

Born Stevland Hardaway  Judkins in Saginaw, Michigan, on May 13th, 1950, to Lula Mae Hardaway Judkins and Calvin Judkins, Stevie Wonder entered the world six weeks premature. This prematurity led to Stevie’s confinement in an incubator, which caused him to develop Retinopathy Of Prematurity, a condition that resulted in his lifelong blindness. However, despite this early obstacle, Stevie’s life would unfold on a path far from tragic. Stevie Wonder’s journey began with the unwavering support of his devoted mother, Lula Mae. Always supportive, Lula Mae would help foster her son’s talents, whether it be through putting Stevie in the church choir, bringing home musical instruments for Stevie to master, or even co-writing songs with her son. The two shared a special bond that Wonder credits as shaping who he is as an artist and human being. 

Discovered at the age of 11 years old by Motown artist Ronnie White of the Miracles, Stevie, already a sensation in his Detroit neighborhood, caught the attention of Motown founder Berry Gordy. Gordy recognized the young talent and quickly signed Stevie. Given his tender age the surname Wonder was given to account for his giftedness. Blessed with perfect pitch and extraordinary ability to play multiple instruments, including the piano, drums, and harmonica, Wonder began his career in 1961 with Motown Records. Soon thereafter another major break came to Stevie when he found himself on the biggest stage of all, The Ed Sullivan Show. 

On May 3rd, 1964, at just 13 years old Stevie Wonder performed, “Fingertips Pt 2” live on Ed Sulllivan’s televised stage.  Presented by Ed as, “Detroit’s amazing 13-year-old singing star,” a young Wonder that night was introduced into the lives of millions of Americans  who would quickly fall in love with the budding young star, and soon watch him transform into an American musical icon. Through the years Stevie Wonder would grow into one of the most notable music figures of the 20th century. His evolution as an artist is beautifully documented from his first Sullivan performance 60 years ago, to his 1969 Sullivan performance “For Once in My Life,” and ultimately his legacy as one the most successful songwriters and performers of all time. 

In the 1970s Wonder transcended the sound of R&B, essentially driving the genre to advance as a sound. Stevie alongside musical greats like Marvin Gaye helped bring R&B into a modern era where albums were cohesive works of art that made social and conscious statements.  Wonder’s use of “electronic music” and synthesizers was revolutionary for the times leading him to influence musicians of all genres, including funk, blues, soul, pop and even rock. 

In 1972 Wonder toured with the classic rock & roll band, The Rolling Stones. Performing his No.1 hits “Superstition” and “You are the Sunshine of My Life,” with the Stones, allowed Wonder to reach a different and broader audience; ultimately growing his dedicated fanbase. 

During this same decade Wonder won the Grammy Award for “Album of the Year,” an astonishing three times and for three consecutive album releases; “Innervisions” (1973), “Fulfillingness’ First Finale” (1974), and “Songs in the Key of Life” (1976). No artist has ever won for that many consecutive album releases.  He also holds the most Grammy awards by a male solo artist with 25 Grammys, and has been inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame. Wonder has a star on the Hollywood walk of fame, and over 5 songs on The Rolling Stones “Greatest 500 Songs of All time,” including the hit “Signed Sealed Delivered, I’m yours,”  which he co-wrote with his late mother Lulu Mae. 

The Influence Lulu Mae had on her son, speaks to the Influence Stevie has had on generations of music- that comes from the heart and soul. A child prodigy raised in the “home of Hitsville USA,” Motown. Stevie was mentored by r&b greats in composing, songwriting, and production, so It’s no wonder with this fostering and given talent that Stevie is the wonder that he is. 

As we commemorate the 60th anniversary of Stevie’s 1st appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, and his start of what would be a long, impactful career, let us not only celebrate his talents but also his ability to evolve and shape popular music. His evolution from “little Stevie” on the Sullivan stage to the mega star we all know, love and respect today is a testament to true artistry that grows and speaks to generations and generations to come.