Stevie Wonder

portrait of Stevie Wonder
Addressing conference at Salvador, Brazil 12 July 2006, photo via Agencia Brasil

Born: 13 May 1950, Saginaw, Michigan

Born six weeks premature, he was named Stevland Hardaway Judkins. Blood vessels in his eyes had not developed sufficiently and his retinas were detached, the medical term is retinopathy of prematurity. At age four his mother left his father, taking her children to Detroit and soon changed her children's surname to Morris. The blind child took to music, learning to play the piano at age four and becoming proficient with harmonica, drums, and bass as well. At eleven he was introduced to Berry Gordy, CEO of Motown Records, who signed him to the Tamla label as "Little Stevie Wonder". His first major hit came two years later, "Fingertips (Pt. 2)", the year after that he appeared in two films. By mid decade he had dropped "Little" from his name and was charting regularly as well as writing songs performed by other Motown artists. When he turned 21 he let his Motown contract lapse and recorded his next two albums independently, giving him the bargaining power to demand full artistic control and the rights to his own songs when he came back to Tamla, both elements that had never before been in a Motown contract. It also got him a higher royalty rate, the contract pleased him enough that he still records on the Tamla label today. He was in an automobile accident in 1973 which left him in a coma for four days and left him with a permanent loss of some of his sense of smell and taste, but recovered and was performing again in six months. In 1980 he campaigned to make Martin Luther King, Jr's birthday a national holiday. He continues to perform, including the pre-game show for the 2006 Super Bowl and the closing ceremonies of the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He has had over 30 singles in the top ten, has won 22 Grammy Awards (the most by a male solo artist), and was named a UN Messenger of Peace.

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