When Miracle (of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles) Ronnie White brought Steveland Morris over to the Motown offices in Detroit in 1961, Berry Gordy was not initially impressed. After Morris sang the Miracles’ “Lonely Guy” and performed on piano, harmonica and bongo, Gordy signed signed the 11-year-old kid to his label. According to Nelson George’s Where Did Our Love Go?, “Berry, in one of his more inspired name changes, decided [Morris] would hereafter be called Little Stevie Wonder.” The “little” was the traditional honorific indicating that the kid was a prodigy.
Stevie’s first hit — if you’re our age, you remember it — was “Fingertips–Pt. 2,” a one-of-a-kind, chaotic live cut recorded at Chicago’s Regal Theater during a Motown Revue show in 1963. The hits followed at regular intervals until his voice changed. After a break from recording, he resumed his career with “Up-tight” in 1966.
When he turned 21, Stevie renegotiated his contract with Motown to secure the kind of artistic freedom that Marvin Gaye had used to produce the groundbreaking “What’s Going On” album. Stevie’s great 1970’s albums followed in due course, with titles that used his blindness as a metaphor for the insights his music reflected: “Music of My Mind,” “Talking Book,” “Innervisions,” “Fulfillingness’ First Finale,” and “Songs in the Key of Life.”
What’s your favorite Stevie Wonder song? There are so many lovely, positive, and haunting songs in the Stevie Wonder songbook. Let me pick just a few of the lesser-known, knockout tracks from the succession of albums beginning with “Where I’m Coming From”: “If You Really Loved Me,” “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer,” “‘Til You Come Back To Me,” “Happier Than the Morning Sun,” “Blame It On the Sun,” “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing,” “They Won’t Go When I Go,” “Knocks Me Off My Feet,” “As,” “Another Star.”
Today Stevie Wonder turns 55. His creative fires are still burning. According to his site, this week he released a historic video of his new recording in two versions, one with “a second, descriptive audio track, recorded by hip hop star Busta Rhymes, to be made accessible to people who are blind or have low vision.”
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