Written by Jack Houlihan
After being born with retinopathy, Stevie Wonder wasn’t going to let being blind get in the way of him chasing after his passions. After his talent was recognized while he sang in church, he was brought to audition for Motown Records executives at the age of NINE years old. Just for years later at the age of thirteen he had a number one song called Fingertips Part II. Navigating a changing voice as you grow is extremely tough for young talent, and that’s when many of them fail. During his teens, Wonder took time to really hone his new vocal range as well as double down on his piano skills at the Michigan School for the Blind. At seventeen he exploded with hit after hit, releasing songs like I Was Made to Love Her, For Once In My Life, My Cherie Amour, and Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours. Still eager to grow, Stevie found time to take music theory classes at USC and grow himself even more as a musician. On his twenty first birthday his contract with Motown Records expired. This time around he wasn’t a little kid eager to sing for a living, but a bona fide superstar going into these negotiations. With this new contract he secured himself far greater control over the production of his music as well as the content of his lyrics. This is where we see a shift in his music.
As musically gifted as he was, Stevie Wonder was equally socially aware. With this new musical freedom we see themes of social justice come up in his music in songs such as Living For the City and Black Man, among others. At the age of fifteen Stevie met Martin Luther King Jr. at a rally, and interaction he said changed his life. When King was killed, Wonder stopped his music career to mourn and joined the decades long fight to make his birthday a national holiday. His song Happy Birthday became the unofficial anthem of this movement that reached their goal in 1983. On this topic, Wonder said, “Why should I be involved in this great cause? As an artist, my purpose is to communicate the message that can better improve the lives of all of us.” He’s made good on his word, continuing to champion causes from world hunger, to AIDS relief, to climate change today.
Through all his activism he continued put out all kinds of classics with the signature style that only he could produce. After all that, what’s Stevie up to now? On October 22 of this year, he released a song with Elton John called Finish Line—his soulful voice still cuts through the ensemble like it always has. In a recent interview with Oprah he said he’s moving to Ghana full time after, frankly, getting tired of the United States’ politics. Now someone who given so much of himself for the betterment of others can finally take some time for himself.