Stevie Wonder: Facts, Trivia, Things You Didn't Know About The Funk Legend
Stevie Wonder circa 1970. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
With songs like "Superstition," "I Wish," and "Boogie On Reggae Woman," Stevie Wonder revolutionized R&B, but how well do you know the Stevie Wonder story? The facts of his life and trivia are fascinating, from his rise as "Little" Stevie Wonder to his choice to be a funk rebel -- and of course his status today as one of the great innovators in popular music. Over the course of his 70 years, he's changed how record contracts are made and lost his sense of smell. It's been a strange and inspiring story for Stevie Wonder.
They say that prodigies are born not made. In the case of Steveland Hardaway Judkins, more commonly known as Stevie Wonder, it was a bit of both. Stevie Wonder was born six weeks prematurely into a family with little musical talent. That stunted the growth of blood vessels in the back of his eyes. The premature birth coupled with the oxygen that was pumped into his incubator worsened his condition, leaving him blind. Who’s to say whether the gift of sight would have affected Stevie Wonder’s musical genius but we all know how it turned out.
A Musical Prodigy
While the beginning of Wonder’s life began with a stroke of bad luck, the talented youngster didn’t let it slow him down. Wonder had mastered the piano, harmonica, drums and bass before he hit puberty. At age 11, using the stage name “Little Stevie Wonder,” his audition left the legendary producer, Berry Gordy, speechless. By age 13 he topped the Billboard charts with “Fingertips,” which just so happened to feature a young man named Marvin Gaye on drums.
The Finest Finishing School For Wonder
Signing with Motown records afforded Wonder the opportunity to learn from the likes of Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross. Despite learning from the best, Wonder always went his own way.
I got a call from Smokey and he says: "I didn't like your choice of material. I think it's really ridiculous." I said: "I don't give a 'uh' what you think, or what anyone thinks!" That was my growing-up moment at Motown.
It didn’t take long to drop the “Little” from Stevie Wonder’s stage name, as he made a name for himself on the biggest stage. By the time Wonder turned 18, he signed a contract that would change music.
His lawyer, Johanan Vigoda, describes its significance. “He broke tradition with the deal, legally, professionally – in terms of how he could cut his records and where he could cut – and in breaking tradition he opened up the future for Motown. That’s what they understood. They had never had an artist in 13 years, they had singles records, they managed to create a name in certain areas, but they never came through with a major, major artist. It turned out they did a beautiful job.”
Ears Of Gold
Naturally, a prodigy enjoys talents the rest of us can’t comprehend. For Wonder, it’s his ear. His assistant, Ira Tucker shared tales of Wonder’s hearing, “He can hear. Like when I get stoned and listen to the radio and then I can pick up things. He’s there all the time. He even turns the lights on and off when he goes to the bathroom,” said Ira. What for? I don’t know. He said it’s ’cause he hears everybody else do it. Click, you go in, click, you’re out. So he does it, too.”
Stevie Wonder Can's Smell, Either
When Wonder was asked what he learned from Benny Benjamin, Motown’s first studio drummer, he replied “Yeah, you can hear it, you know. I learned from just listening to him.” In 1972 Wonder was in a terrible car accident that robbed him of his sense of smell and temporarily affected his sense of taste. Thankfully, the golden ears were spared.
Making The Most Of Difficulties
When Wonder was asked if being born black and blind helped make him who he has become. He answers in typical Wonder fashion, “I never thought of being blind as a disadvantage, and I never thought of being black as a disadvantage. I am what I am. I love me! And I don't mean that egotistically – I love that God has allowed me to take whatever it was that I had and to make something out of it." 25 Grammys and unanimous respect from the greatest musicians who ever lived. Yea, you could say Wonder made something of his gifts.
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