Category: stevie wonder

On this day in music history: August 16, 1962 …

On this day in music history: August 16, 1962 – “I Call It Pretty Music, But… (The Old People Call It The Blues) Pts 1 & 2”, the debut single by Little Stevie Wonder is released. Written by Berry Gordy, Jr. and Clarence Paul, the young singer and musician (born Stevland Hardaway Judkins) is brought to Motown founder and chairman Berry Gordy’s attention by Miracles member Ronnie White after his brother Gerald sees Stevie perform at a friends house. White is so impressed, that he arranges for the then eleven year old to audition for Gordy. Motown quickly signs Stevie and pairs him with Motown staff producer and songwriter Clarence Paul.  It is Paul that gives the singer his professional surname after hearing someone exclaim, “that boy is a wonder!” Paul and Gordy co-write Wonder’s debut release, which features another newly signed Motown artist named Marvin Gaye playing drums on the song. Motown initially markets the twelve year old singer as “a young Ray Charles”. The two sides of the single stand in stark contrast from each other, with part one having a straight ahead uptempo R&B sound, while part two is slower and has a more traditional blues feel. Initial pressings of the 45 are issued in a picture sleeve showing Wonder singing into a microphone. Though “I Call It Pretty Music, But… (The Old People Call It The Blues) Pts 1 & 2” bubbles under the Billboard Hot 100 peaking at #101, and does not chart on the R&B singles chart, it marks the beginning of Stevie Wonder’s over fifty year association with Motown Records.

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On this day in music history: August 10, 1963 …

On this day in music history: August 10, 1963 – “Fingertips Pt. II” by Little Stevie Wonder hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 3 weeks, also topping the R&B singles chart for 7 weeks on August 3, 1963. Written by Clarence Paul and Henry Cosby, it is the first chart topping single for the Motown icon from Saginaw, MI. Having struggled for his first year on Motown with his first three singles and first two albums failing to chart, Berry Gordy, Jr. comes up with another plan. Noticing audiences response to Wonder’s energetic live performances, Gordy decides to record him live during his first outing on the Motortown Revue Tour in 1962 at the famed Regal Theater in Chicago. Among the songs featured is “Fingertips”, written by Wonder’s producers Henry “Hank” Cosby and Clarence Paul. Recorded on June 1, 1962, it features the singer backed by members of The Funk Brothers, and a pre-fame Marvin Gaye playing drums. Over six and a half minutes long, the first half features Stevie playing the harmonica and bongos. During the second half, he begins a call and response with the audience, who respond enthusiastically. At the five and a half minute mark, the song appears to end with Wonder playing a short bit of “Mary Had A Little Lamb”, followed the MC telling him to take a bow. With The Marvelettes up next, bassist James Jamerson has steps off stage with Joe Swift taking his place. At this point, Wonder makes an unexpected encore, continuing to play the harmonica, with the other musicians slowly falling back in. Then Swift is heard frantically yelling out “what key??? what key???”. Then the band launches back into “Fingertips” for another minute as the crowd roars its approval, with Stevie responding with “goodbye, goodbye… goodbye, goodbye… goodbye, goodbye, goodbye… I’m gonna go back, I’m gonna go, yeah… But let’s just swing it one more time!!!”. The results are undeniably electric, moving Motown to release the song. “Fingertips” is divided into two parts, and is issued on May 21, 1963. DJ’s begin playing part two featuring the encore half, which listeners respond to immediately. Entering the Hot 100 at #85 on June 22, 1963, it rockets to the top of the chart seven weeks later. The huge success of “Fingertips Pt. II” also propels the album “Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius” (though is actually thirteen at the time of its release) to number one on the Top 200 and R&B album charts. Stevie Wonder becomes the youngest artist in history to score a chart topping single and album. It is also the first live recording to top the charts since Johnny Standley’s “It’s In The Book”, eleven years earlier. Years later, part of Wonder’s vocal from “Fingertips” is sampled on Chaka Khan’s version of the Prince penned “I Feel For You” (#1 R&B, #3 Pop), which also features Stevie on harmonica. “Fingertips Pt. II” is the first of twenty R&B and ten pop chart toppers Wonder has over the course of his five decade plus career.

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On this day in music history: August 7, 1970 -…

On this day in music history: August 7, 1970 – “Signed, Sealed & Delivered”, the twelfth album by Stevie Wonder is released. Produced by Stevie Wonder, Henry Cosby, Ron Miller and Steve Marcel BegaIt, it is recorded at Motown Studio A and Studio B (Golden World) in Detroit, MI from November 1969 – March 1970. After co-writing several of his hit singles going back to “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” in late 1965, Stevie Wonder becomes restless at being under the control of various producers at Motown. The musician longs to become more involved, and have a great say in the creative process of making his records. Though only nineteen years old at the time, Wonder successfully lobbies for the right work as a co-producer. “Signed, Sealed & Delivered” is the first album in which Stevie Wonder receives a production credit, producing or co-producing five tracks. The album spins off three hit singles including “Heaven Help Us All” (#3 R&B, #9 Pop), “We Can Work It Out” (#3 R&B, #13 Pop) and the title track (#1 R&B, #3 Pop). Originally issued on CD in the US in the mid 80’s (as a two-fer with “My Cherie Amour”), it later reissued as a stand alone disc. The album is also available in remastered form as a Japanese SHM-CD, issued in a mini replica of the original vinyl LP artwork. “Signed, Sealed & Delivered” peaks at number twenty five on the Billboard Top 200, and number seven on the R&B album chart.

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On this day in music history: August 3, 1973 -…

On this day in music history: August 3, 1973 – “Innervisions", the sixteenth album by Stevie Wonder is released. Produced by Stevie Wonder, Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil, it is recorded at The Record Plant in Los Angeles, CA and Media Sound Studios in New York City from March – June 1973. Following the major breakthrough success with his previous album “Talking Book", Stevie Wonder continues his remarkably prolific streak of creativity when he begins work on his next album. Covering a wide variety of social issues and topics from relationships to drug abuse. Wonder is a virtual “one man band”, playing nearly all of the instruments on six of the albums nine tracks. Only three days after its release, Stevie is seriously injured in a car accident, suffering a contusion to the brain that puts the musician in a coma for four days. Miraculously, he survives with his physical and creative abilities intact after a long and slow recovery period. He emerges from the accident even more conscious and spiritually aware. Like its predecessor, it is another artistic and commercial triumph, and is widely regarded as one of Stevie Wonder’s most important and influential works. It spins off three hit singles including “Higher Ground" (#1 R&B, #4 Pop), “Living For The City" (#1 R&B, #8 Pop) and “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing" (#2 R&B, #16 Pop). The album wins three Grammy Awards including Album Of The Year. Originally released on CD in 1984, it is remastered and reissued by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab as a 24k gold CD in 1991. The MoFi edition has become highly prized by audiophiles and collectors, for its excellent mastering and superior sound quality. To date, it is the only digital edition of the album to be mastered from the original first generation master tapes. Other remasters including the 2000 CD reissue by Motown/Universal, a recent gold CD release by Audio Fidelity Records and vinyl reissue by Mobile Fidelity which were all made from 1:1 safety copies of the masters. The original tapes are in Stevie Wonder’s possession, who has not let them out of his personal tape archive for further use. The album is reissued as a 180 gram vinyl LP by Motown/UMe in Europe in 2014, and in the US in 2017, replicating the original packaging. “Innervisions" spends two weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B album chart, and peak at number four on the Top 200. The album is also inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1999.

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On this day in music history: August 1, 1970 -…

On this day in music history: August 1, 1970 – “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” by Stevie Wonder hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 6 weeks, also peaking at #3 on the Hot 100 on August 8, 1970. Written by Stevie Wonder, Syreeta Wright, Lee Garrett and Lula Mae Hardaway, it is the sixth R&B chart topper for the twenty year old Motown superstar. Originally written with the intent of giving it to singer Johnnie Taylor, Wonder changes his mind and records the song himself. Stevie’s mother Lula actually comes up with the songs title after hearing him sing the melody line. “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours” is the first record self produced under his own name (having previously co-written and produced The Spinners’ “It’s A Shame” several months before). The basic track is recorded at Motown’s Studio A in Detroit on August 26, 1969, with The Funk Brothers providing musical backing. The personnel includes Bob Babbitt (bass), Richard “Pistol” Allen, Wonder (drums), Robert White, Eddie Willis (guitars, electric sitar) and Jack Ashford (tambourine).  Another session overdubbing the horn section (arranged by Paul Riser) is cut at Motown’s Studio B in Detroit (formerly Golden World Records in The Donovan Building) on February 26, 1970.  A third session at Studio A recording Stevie’s initial lead vocal track and more instrumental overdubs, are tracked on April 23, 1970. And finally on April 28, 1970 a fourth and final session at Studio A takes place, overdubbing new lead vocals and the background vocals sung by Syreeta Wright, Venetta Fields and Lynda Tucker Laurence. Released on June 3, 1970, it quickly becomes a smash on both R&B and top 40 pop radio, unseating The Jackson 5’s “The Love You Save”, which had also held the top spot on the R&B singles chart for six weeks. “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” sells nearly two million copies in the US, and earns Stevie Wonder his first Grammy nomination for Best R&B Song in 1971. Over time, it becomes one of Wonder’s most frequently covered songs with versions recorded by Bobby Byrd, Chaka Khan, Peter Frampton, Craig David, Blue Featuring Angie Stone & Stevie Wonder, Michael McDonald, and Syreeta Wright. During his run for the presidency in 2008, Barack Obama frequently plays Stevie Wonder’s original version at election rallies. Wonder himself performs the song live on the final night of the Democratic National Convention in Denver, CO. The song is featured again at both of Obama’s election night victory rallies at Grant’s Park in Chicago in 2008 and 2012.

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On this day in music history: July 31, 1973 – …

On this day in music history: July 31, 1973 – “Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder is released. Written by Stevie Wonder, it is the first single issued from the album “Innervisions”. The track is written and recorded in May 1973 in studio during sessions for the album. Featuring Wonder on all instruments, “Higher Ground” is recorded at Mediasound Studios in New York City on May 11, 1973, and is completed in only three hours. Only one week after its release on August 6, 1973, Wonder is involved in a near fatal car accident while traveling to a gig in Durham, NC. The musician’s cousin John Harris is at the wheel of the car, and is driving behind a large logging truck. The car collides with the back of the truck, causing one of the logs to dislodge, sliding off of the back and going right through windshield of the car. The log hits Stevie right in his forehead, fracturing his skull and bruising his brain. Rushed to the hospital, Wonder falls into a coma for four days. While in the hospital, Wonder’s road manager Ira Tucker, Jr. kneels down and sings “Higher Ground” right in his ear. Stevie responds by moving his fingers in time with the song. “Higher Ground” hits number one on the Billboard R&B singles chart on September 29, 1973, and number four on the Hot 100 on October 13, 1973. “Higher Ground” becomes one of Stevie Wonder’s most covered songs with recorded versions by Ike & Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Etta James, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

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Sepia magazine covers from the 1970s

On this day in music history: July 22, 1974 – …

On this day in music history: July 22, 1974 – “Fulfillingess’ First Finale”, the seventeenth studio album by Stevie Wonder is released. Produced by Stevie Wonder, Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil, it is recorded at The Record Plant and Westlake Audio in Los Angeles, CA, Media Sound Studios and Electric Lady Studios in New York City circa Mid 1973 – Early 1974. Following a near fatal accident in August of 1973 just as his previous album “Innervisions” is released, Stevie Wonder re-emerges months later with an even greater creative drive. The musician returns to the studio with co-producers Bob Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil. The material on “Finale” covers a number of topics including relationships, romantic love and carnal desire (“Creepin’”, “Boogie On Reggae Woman”), politics and social commentary (“You Haven’t Done Nothin’”), and his own near brush with death (“Heaven Is Ten Zillion Light Years Away”, “They Won’t Go When I Go”). Issued as the follow up to the critically acclaimed and commercially successful “Innervisions”, it is received in similar fashion for the depth and very personal tone of the songs’ lyrics and innovative production style. It spins off the hits “You Haven’t Done Nothin’ (#1 R&B and Pop) and "Boogie On Reggae Woman” (#1 R&B, #3 Pop). The album wins four Grammy Awards including Album Of The Year, making Wonder the only other artist in Grammy history besides Frank Sinatra to win the Album Of The Year prize in consecutive years. Originally released on CD in 1984, it is remastered and reissued in 2000. The album is also remastered and reissued as a limited edition 24K gold CD by Audio Fidelity in 2011, with HDCD encoding. Out of print on vinyl since 1989, it is remastered and reissued as a 180 gram LP by Motown/UMe in 2017, replicating the original gatefold sleeve packaging. It also comes with an mp3 download card of the full album. “Fulfillingess’ First Finale” spends two weeks at number one on the Billboard Top 200, and five weeks at number one on the R&B album chart.

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On this day in music history: July 15, 1967 – …

On this day in music history: July 15, 1967 – “I Was Made To Love Her” by Stevie Wonder hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 4 weeks (non-consecutive), also peaking at #2 on the Hot 100 on July 29, 1967. Written by Henry Cosby, Lula Mae Hardaway, Sylvia Moy and Stevie Wonder, it is the third R&B chart topper for the then seventeen year old Motown star. Staff producer and songwriter Sylvia Moy comes up with the initial idea for the song, drawing upon her own family background while growing up in Arkansas. Moy collaborates with producer/songwriter Henry “Hank” Cosby along with Stevie Wonder and his mother Lula who also contributes lyrics and melody lines to the song. The track is cut at Motown Studio A in Detroit on March 11, 1967 with The Funk Brothers providing the instrumental backing. The strings (played by members of the Detroit Symphony) are added on March 21, 1967 with Wonder recording his lead vocal on March 30, 1967. The background vocals are recorded on March 31, 1967. Released in May of 1967 after a number of mid charting singles on the pop charts, it fully restores Wonder to commercial prominence, becoming his first million selling single since “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” a year and a half before. “I Was Made To Love Her” is also covered numerous times by various artists including The Beach Boys, Boyz II Men, The Jackson 5, and Michael McDonald. Chaka Khan and Whitney Houston record their own versions as “I Was Made To Love Him” in 1978 and 1998 respectively.

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On this day in music history: June 1, 1968 – &…

On this day in music history: June 1, 1968 – “Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day” by Stevie Wonder hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 1 week, also peaking at #9 on the Hot 100 on May 25, 1968. Written by Henry Cosby, Sylvia Moy and Stevie Wonder, it is the fourth R&B chart topper for the then eighteen year-old Motown star. Cut in early 1968 at Motown’s Studio A in Detroit with members of The Funk Brothers providing musical support, the track features Wonder’s first use of the Hohner Clavinet (an electrically amplified clavichord), an instrument that features prominently throughout his career and on several future hits including his cover of The Beatles “We Can Work It Out” and “Superstition”. Released initially as a stand alone single on April 30, 1968, it quickly races up the R&B and pop singles charts. “Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day” is also included on Stevie Wonder’s next studio album “For Once In My Life” released in December of 1968. The song is later covered by Michael Jackson on his second solo album “Ben” in 1972.

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