Happy Birthday to Stevie Wonder, who turns 71 today (May 13th)!!! Last October, Wonder released his first new music in 15 years. “Where Is Our Love Song” was a tune he began writing way back in 1968; and the second track — “Can’t Put It In The Hands Of Fate” — features Busta Rhymes and Rapsody alongside backing vocals from five of his nine children. Rolling Stone reported at the time, “Proceeds from the song’s sales will benefit Feeding America, which, Wonder says, has requested $1 billion in donations to help families in need around the country.” The tracks were issued under Wonder’s own Republic Records, marking his first break from Motown in nearly 60 years.
Last June, Wonder posted a video on social media, titled “The Universe Is Watching” in which he spoke at length on race relations in the country and how America can move beyond what he believes is Donald Trump‘s overt race baiting and prejudice.
Wonder quoted from his 1973 Innervisions classic “Visions,” reciting “I’m not one who makes believe/ I know that leaves are green/ They only turn to brown/ When autumn comes around/ I know just what I say/ Today’s not yesterday/ And all things have an ending.”
He spoke about how he commentated Juneteenth, despite the fact that it’s not a nationally recognized day, saying, “As a matter of fact, there are three states that still do not recognize it: North Dakota, South Dakota and Hawaii. How did it feel to celebrate freedom that we’re still fighting for? It felt, and feels, too familiar.”
Stevie Wonder was born Stevland Judkins in Saginaw, Michigan in 1950, and later on legally changed his last name to Morris. At 12-years-old, “Little Stevie Wonder” had his first Number One hit with “Fingertips – Part 2,” recorded live in concert. Listen closely and you’ll hear the musicians struggling to keep up with Wonder as he improvises; at one point, one musician can be heard shouting, “What key? What key?”
In October 22nd, 2017, Stevie Wonder kneeled while performing “The Star Spangled Banner” in Austin during his performance the Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix at Circuit of America. TimeOut.com reported that Wonder performed a hit-packed setlist that included a surprise version of Carole King‘s “You’ve Got A Friend.” Wonder addressed the crowd, stating, “I’ve never seen the color of my skin, nor the color of your skin. What I want you to know is that we are in a race, we here, all of us here, a race against time, (so) it’s time for all the leaders, all the people, all of us to come together in the spirit of unity so we can move this world to a positive form.”
It was during his harmonica medley of John Lennon‘s global peace anthem “Imagine” with “The Star Spangled Banner,” that Wonder took a knee in solidarity with the NFL players raising awareness of ongoing social inequality, which inspired audience members to follow suit.
Wonder got married in July 2017 under a cloak of secrecy at L.A.’s Hotel Bel-Air to third wife, Tomeeka Bracy. News only became public a week later because, according to Vintage Vinyl News, “Every guest, including family members, had to sign a confidentiality agreement that included a penalty of $1 million if they talked to the press. . . Reportedly, the best man and bridesmaids were made up of some of Wonder’s nine children.”
Among the 160 high profile guests attending the nuptials — which featured Wonder serenading the bride — were John Legend, Babyface, Pharrell, and Usher.
Wonder and Bracy who was 42 at the time, have been together since 2012 and have two children together. Wonder was first married to songwriter Syreeta Wright from 1970 to 1972 and Kai Millard Morris from 2001 to 2012.
2015 saw Wonder playing a string of concerts featuring his 1976 classic Songs In The Key Of Life being performed in its entirety, the star-studded CBS Songs In The Key Of Life — An All-Star Grammy Salute, and his induction of Bill Withers into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In December 2014, Wonder welcomed his ninth child, daughter Nia.
Stevie Wonder’s shows have always featured a wide selection of songs spanning his entire career. He spoke about the allure of playing full album concerts: “I have thought about doing performances of different works or, y’know, that whole deal, because as much as they are albums, based on vinyl and CD and all that kind of thing. But, I think something like Songs In The Key Of Life, it’s an actual concept and project that you do that music; y’know, thank God it’s, y’know, stood the test of time and all that.”
Stevie Wonder and his second wife Kai Millard Morris divorced in 2015. Under the terms of the split, Stevie will pay $25,000 a month in child support for their two children. The couple agreed on joint custody, with Stevie permitted to take the children on tour with him on a “limited basis.”
Martha Reeves, who was still working as a receptionist at Motown when Wonder first auditioned for the label, recalled that he was unlike anything they had seen or heard before: “Stevie Wonder, when he came to audition, played every instrument in the studio. Then he surprised everybody by puling this harmonica out of his jacket pocket and playing the harmonica, that nobody (laughs) at Motown had ever played.”
Not long before her death last February, the Supremes‘ Mary Wilson recalls the first time she ever met Stevie Wonder, prior to the recording of his first Number One hit “Fingertips – Part 2”: “Stevie Wonder was brought to the studio by Ronnie White of the Miracles. We were at that time Berry Gordy’s shadow. Wherever he would go we would go (laughs). So he said ‘I have this young kid coming in and I want you guys to listen to him.’ Stevie Wonder was going on nine, or something like that, it was just like watching a little genius! (laughs)”
The Temptations‘ late-frontman Dennis Edwards remembered immediately being floored by Wonder’s talents: “The first time I met him, man, I was at Motown — of course Stevie was a little kid. He plays all the time. Every time you hear him he’s swinging. All you’ve got to do is speak and Stevie knows who you are. He can’t see and he’s like ‘Dennis!’ It’s like. . . when I first met him I’m like ‘How does he know who I am?’ Y’know?”
Wonder, who has been writing songs since he was a child, said that he’s never taken his talent for granted: “As I many times do, I’ll say, ‘God, let me come up with a song, let me think of a song, let me this, let me that.’ It’s a magical thing that happens, so I’m still — I’m a lover of music. I’m a very fortunate person in that the thing that I love I’m able to do and support my family as well.”
He says that he wants to hit the road again with a new multimedia type show. Wonder says that he’s eager to incorporate an orchestra and a dance troupe into the show: “I’ve also thought about doing a thing where I perform with part of my group, maybe similarly to the thing that we did with Natural Wonder. Some symphony orchestra as well as use of dancers, like either the Dance Theatre of Harlem or a combination of various dance companies and do that kind of thing, when we do a combination of dance and music. Because obviously, dancing is meant to be done with music, and music is to be done with dancing.”
Wonder’s last studio album, A Time To Love, peaked at Number Five in 2005.
In September 2008 Wonder was named by the Library Of Congress as the 2008 recipient of the prestigious Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
In 2009 Wonder released first concert DVD Live At Last — A Wonder Summer’s Night, which was filmed over two nights at London’s O2 Arena.
Also in 2009 he was chosen by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to be a United Nations Messenger of Peace, with a special mission to help people with disabilities.
In 2010, Wonder was awarded the Commander of Arts and Letters award from French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand.
For the past few years the Motown icon has been working on two projects: The Gospel Inspired By Lula, an inspirational work inspired by his late mother, and the concept album Through The Eyes Of Wonder, about experiencing life as a blind person. Wonder was also set to record an album of duets with Tony Bennett with Quincy Jones producing.
Wonder was previously married to singer-songwriter Syreeta Wright from 1970 to 1972. Since then, he’s had several long-term relationships and has fathered nine children — including daughter Aisha Morris, who’s part of Wonder’s backing band.
In July 2013, following the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin, Stevie Wonder vowed to boycott performing in Florida until the state abolishes its Stand Your Ground gun law. During a 2013 concert in Quebec City, Quebec, Wonder told the crowd: “The truth is that — for those of you who’ve lost in the battle for justice, wherever that fits in any part of the world — we can’t bring them back. What we can do is we can let our voices be heard. And we can vote in our various countries throughout the world for change and equality for everybody. That’s what I know we can do. Where I find that law exists, I will not perform in that state or in that part of the world. Because what I do know is that people know that my heart is of love for everyone and when I say everyone, I mean everyone. As I said earlier, you can’t just talk about it. You gotta be about it. We can make change by coming together for the spirit of unity.”