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Artist: Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder

Bio

Stevie Wonder is the stage name of Stevland Hardaway Morris (b. Stevland Hardaway Judkins, 13 May 1950 in Saginaw, MI, USA - a.k.a. Little Stevie Wonder), a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer and activist. He débuted, as Little Stevie Wonder, with the single "I Call It Pretty Music, But the Old People Call It the Blues" (1961, Tamla Motown) and his latest album is "A Time 2 Love" (Oct 2005, Motown) Stevland lost his eyesight shortly after birth. When he was four, his mother left his father, and moved with the children to Detroit. She changed her name back to Lula Hardaway and later changed her son's surname to Morris, partly for family reasons. Stevland Morris has remained Stevie Wonder's legal name ever since. Wonder signed with Motown's Tamla label at the age of eleven, and continues to perform and record for Motown to this day. Altogether, he has released more than thirty U.S. Top 10 hits and received twenty-two Grammy Awards, the most ever awarded to a male solo artist. In 2008, Billboard magazine placed Wonder fifth in their list of the Hot 100 All-Time Top Artists. He has recorded numerous critically and commercially successful albums, as well as hit singles. Since the mid-1960s, he has written and produced songs for some of his labelmates (such as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and The Spinners), as well as outside artists like Michael Jackson. A multi-instrumentalist, Wonder plays drums, guitar, synthesizers, congas, and most famously the piano, harmonica, and keyboards. Wonder forged his divergent styles into a trademark sound, putting his musical signature on a quartet of albums that would change music forever: 1972's Talking Book, 1973's Innervisions, 1974's Fullfillingness' First Finale, and 1976's Songs in the Key of Life. By the end of the decade, Wonder had won a record fifteen Grammys, as well as numerous other awards. In the following decades he wrote, among other classics, his 1982 collaboration with Paul McCartney, "Ebony and Ivory," which remained number one for seven weeks in a row. 1984's The Woman in Red soundtrack produced the enduring classic "I Just Called to Say I Love You," yet another number-one hit that gained him an Academy Award. In 1989 Wonder was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside The Rolling Stones.
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Articles

Stevie Wonder: Characters Creem, Mar 1988

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THIS IS ALMOST as satisfying a return to form as Sugar Ray Leonard's victory over Marvelous Marvin Hagler and practically as much of an upset.

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After all, Stevie's really been on the skids since 1976's Songs In The Key Of Life, and even that wasn't up to the mind-altering troika-plus-one of Music Of My Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions and Fulfillingness' First Finale. Now that was a streak of creativity combined with commercial success the likes of Prince and Michael Jackson still aspire to.

So it is no small praise indeed to say that Characters, Stevland Morris's first effort since 1985's In Square Circle, favorably evokes those halcyon days of ‘Superstition’, ‘You Are The Sunshine Of My Life’ and ‘Living For The City’. In fact, the new LP opener, ‘You Will Know’ is a spitting image of the latter, complete with its landscape of those "using pharmaceutical extractions to find the paradise" and "single parent(s) trying to raise their children." It's not surprising to discover that a number of the tracks on Characters – my guess is ‘With Each Beat Of My Heart’ and ‘Cryin' Through The Night’, with the last-named sounding much like ‘Sunshine Of My Life’ – have been plucked from Stevie's supposed storehouse of half-formed song ideas and demos. Whatever the case, they are timeless Stevie Wonder ballads that resonate emotionally with our memories of other, warmly familiar numbers from the past.

Characters is the first Stevie Wonder album in recent memory which arrived without both fanfare and frustration on the part of Motown over delays by its perfectionist genius. The two years between In Square Circle and the new LP are downright miniscule compared to the five-year wait which separated the former from its predecessor, 1980's Hotter Than July. The lowered expectations result in a more ready acceptance of Characters' relaxed nature, while the album's concept of shifting masks and personal identities is a far more effective frame than In Square Circle's abstract equations. In fact, the lilting township shuffle of ‘Dark 'n Lovely’ and the playful funk of the first single, ‘Skeletons’, can't hide the fact Stevie's laying some heavy statements on us about apartheid and government interference with personal liberties, respectively. This is a welcome return to the old Wonder turf of hope and despair existing side by side against a decaying but colorful urban backdrop.

As prolific as Stevie Wonder is, it's a crime the guy doesn't release at least a record a year. Recently, Stevie announced that Characters would be the first of a proposed trilogy of records dealing with man's self-image and conflicting roles which would take him into the next decade. Like Sugar Ray, Stevie Wonder has come back to prove he's still capable of delivering a knockout punch. He might not dazzle technically like he used to, for now, Stevie Wonder prefers effortlessly employing the tools of his trade to create something more important than mere electronic wizardry. On ‘With Each Beat Of My Heart’, he incorporates his own heartbeat by miking it and using it in the mix of the song, and that's getting closer to the point of Characters. Whether he's jiving with Michael Jackson on the duet ‘Get It’ or wrestling with the ghost of Prince on a one-man effort like ‘Galaxy Paradise’, Stevie Wonder's still the class of the (heavy) weight division. The man has returned to reclaim his crossover throne. And not a moment too soon...

Stevie Wonder: Innervisions Rolling Stone, Sep 1973

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THE GREENING OF MOTOWN continues apace, with performers who once flourished under the company's autocratic guidelines (the Four Tops, Gladys Knight) seeking success elsewhere while others have been let loose to try and divine the boundaries of their newly-found freedom. Among the latter, Stevie Wonder has become the brightest light of all, his work since Music of My Mind consistently innovative and lustily creative, propelled by a confidence and artistic maturity that only comes through the dogged patience and understanding of day-to-day experience.

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Innervisions is Wonder's 14th album, his third since fully becoming his own man, and it shows off his talents to luminous advantage. A master stylist and arranger, his music has a grace, a studied balance, that does more than just set off each cut in perfect harmony with its neighbors. Indeed, Innervisions may be as close to a concept album as Stevie will ever produce. Its tracks are coupled by a hovering mist of subdued faith, of a belief in the essential rightness of things; and if he seeks to offer no real solutions (should he?), neither does he allow for any easy outs, any quick glossings of the surface.

The themes are simple. Life is tough but life is beautiful; find your own way, but make sure you're not simply playing the fool and kidding yourself. He gently chides the escapism of drugs ('Too High'), as well as the 'Misstra Know-It-All's who wear their ignorance like a shield. He saves his blessings for those who maintain a reverie of the world as it should be, as it inevitably is, the 'Higher Ground' which must never be lost sight of or denied. It's interesting to note here that in the song Wonder directs at the 'Jesus Children of America' (adding transcendental meditators and junkies into the spiritual mix), he merely asks them not to "tell lies." Later, in 'Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing': "Everybody needs a change/A chance to check out the new/But you're the only one to see/The changes you take yourself through."

In this sense – and it's to his credit that Wonder's preoccupations with such Siddharthic messages never slide into the blandly predictable – Stevie functions a bit like Curtis Mayfield, aware of his role as a musical and spiritual leader, in that order, but hardly to the point of shrillness. His concern with the real world is all-encompassing, a fact which his blindness has apparently complemented rather than denied. "I'm not one who makes believe," he sings in 'Visions'; "I know that leaves are green," Even when his characters run into crippling obstacles – the young Mississippi boy who's spent his life 'Living for the City', only to arrive at Port Authority and be unjustly thrown in the slammer – he never loses that basic optimism, the ability to once again rise and return to the fray.

Musically, this philosophy is blended into nine songs whose depth and range of technical judgement is flawless. Though Stevie plays most everything on the album, instrumentation is held to a careful minimum, centered around electric piano, guitars, a roundhouse rhythm section and a discrete, unobtrusive use of synthesizers.
'Higher Ground' is the single and should notch Wonder his lucky 13th gold certification, though that's not to say any of the other cuts couldn't function on the Hot 100 equally as well. Both 'Living for the City' and 'Jesus Children' rank high on the danceability index, while 'All in Love Is Fair' performs the same painfully exquisite ballad function as 'Blame It on the Sun' played for Talking Book. But the best moment is reserved for Stevie, aurally getting off the bus in 'Living for the City': "Wow," he says, "New York! Just like I pictured it!"

An eye for an eye. On Innervisions, Stevie Wonder proves again that he is one of the vital forces in contemporary music.

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Top Albums

Songs in the Key of Life cover art

Songs in the Key of Life

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The Definitive Collection cover art

The Definitive Collection

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Innervisions cover art

Innervisions

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Talking Book cover art

Talking Book

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Number Ones cover art

Number Ones

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Top Songs

Superstition cover art

Superstition

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Sir Duke cover art

Sir Duke

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Higher Ground cover art

Higher Ground

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For Once in My Life cover art

For Once in My Life

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Isn't She Lovely cover art

Isn't She Lovely

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