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Histórico de Stevie Wonder

 

 

Stevie Wonder

 

Histórico (em português)

 

Stevie is the kid brother of the Motown stable who grew up to become arguably the most influential American musician of his generation. He's the ground breaker whose work on the Moog synthesizer taught other performers how to incorporate machines into music. He's the composer whose songs of social change challenged complacency and dared idealism. He's the humanitarian who marched and protested alongside the hungry and the accused. And of course, he's the hitmaker whose songs arc back over almost 40 years of our lives -- stirring rhythms and passionate blues, light hearted melodies and poignant lyrics that have been part of our lives for so long that we can hardly remember a time when they were not.

Black, Blind and Broke


Steveland Judkins (later, Stevland Morris) was not born blind on May 13, 1950. It's thought that the blindness happened shortly afterward as a result of having received too much oxygen in the hospital incubator. "A girl who was born that same day was also put into the incubator and she died," he explained once. "I personally think I'm lucky to be alive."

Stevie, third son of a cleaning lady named Lula Hardaway, was born in Saginaw, Michigan, a town that offered miserable poverty, hard living and little opportunity for a person to be anything except cold. His father was not in the home and the family eked out an existence.

Three years after Stevie was born, the family moved south to Detroit where Lula reunited with Paul Hardaway, father of her two oldest boys, eventually bearing him three more children. Hardaway had a decent job and the family made a relatively comfortable home in the motor town's black ghetto.

Stevie was a healthy, rambunctious boy, yet his inability to see tormented his mother. She filled her prayers with entreaties for God to remedy his eyes, took him to all manner of doctors and faith healers, desperate to find something to enable him to see. Life, a teacher once told Stevie, had leveled three strikes against him: He was blind, black and broke.

But Stevie never considered blindness a limitation. It certainly didn't slow him down. In "I Wish," the autobiographical 1976 hit, he describes his childhood as a "little nappy headed boy" sneaking cigarettes, playing doctor with girls, "writing something nasty on the wall"...in other words, getting into every manner of mischief common to boys of that age and place.

Stevie had thought he might grow up to be an electrician or a minister but gradually, music began to play an increasingly prominent role in his life. It wasn't long before he was singing in alleys and on street corners. He formed a duo with a partner named John Glover and they entertained the neighborhood with their renditions of fifties hits like "Why Do Fools Fall In Love."

Stevie's reputation grew until one of his friends began pestering his big brother, a local singer, to take a listen. It took awhile to get big brother to say yes, but finally he did. That meeting, though Stevie couldn't know it, would spell the end of any career he might have had as a minister or electrician.

Because the big brother's name was Ronnie White. He belonged to a group called Smokey Robinson and The Miracles.

Boy Wonder


Stevie Wonder has heard Berry Gordy tell the story many times.

"I was eating breakfast in my office," the Motown founder wrote in his autobiography, "when (producer) Mickey Stevenson burst in.

'BG, you got to come hear this little kid now!'

"I hurried down to the studio and found a young blind kid that Ronnie White from the Miracles had brought in for us to hear.

"He was singing, playing the bongos and blowing on a harmonica. His voice didn't knock me out, but his harmonica playing did. Something about him was infectious.

"Signed as Stephen Hardaway Judkins, he was only eleven years old and people were already saying he could be another Ray Charles.

"I don't really remember it, but (my sister) Esther told me that one day in the studio, watching Stevie perform, I said, 'Boy! That kid's a wonder,' and the name stuck."

And so, Steveland Judkins became Little Stevie Wonder. But after it had signed and re-named him, Motown had to figure out what to do with him, and that would prove to be difficult. A series of singles came and went without making much of an impression on the record buying public.

Stevie, however, was definitely making an impression on Motown. And vice versa. His labelmates -- most of them young adults about 10 years older -- adopted him as a little brother of sorts. Which meant that they loved him -- and he tormented them. Young Stevie was an inveterate prankster.

If anybody was angry with him, it surely didn't last very long. Stevie was the kind of kid nobody seemed able to stay mad at. Even when he woke you up at three in the morning on the tour bus to play you some new melody he'd been fooling around with. Even when he'd pretend to stumble and fall, then sit there laughing as you rushed, heart-stricken, to help him up.

It was in the summer of 1963 that Stevie, just turning all of 13 years old, finally got his first big hit with the release of "Fingertips (Part 2)," an exuberant harmonica jam recorded live. It's a song of rambunctious joy, a teasing Stevie leading the audience in call and response, even playing a verse of "Mary had a little lamb." His infectious energy is half the song; the kid is so high on the crowd that he can't leave the stage.

"Fingertips" was a sensation. It and the album it came from topped the charts, made Stevie a household name.

And then...

Nothing.

Not a thing for two whole years. Records came and went, but none came close to the full-throttle success of "Fingertips." And some Motown executives, at least, felt it was time to concede defeat, to tear up the youngster's contract and move on.

Until staff writer Sylvia Moy begged her bosses to let her give it one more try. Inspired by a Stevie riff, she sketched out "Uptight (Everything's Alright)," a tale of love between a "poor man's son from across the railroad tracks" and a girl raised in a "great big old house where there are butlers and maids." With Benny Benjamin - Stevie's favorite drummer - driving a beat that pumped like pistons, the song hammered its way to the highest reaches of the charts.

Now Stevie Wonder was on his way in earnest. "Uptight" was followed by a slew of hits, including Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind," "I Was Made To Love Her," "Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day," "For Once In My Life," "You Met Your Match," "My Cherie Amour" and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)." As the decade wore on, Stevie began to assume more of the songwriting and production burden for his own work and even branched out to do the same for other acts. "It's A Shame," a song he produced and co-wrote, was one of the biggest early hits for the Spinners.

His contract with Motown expired on May 13, 1971, his 21st birthday, and the label was eager to get him to re-sign. Stevie was riding the crest of terrific success and Motown looked forward to more of the same. But more of the same was the last thing he had in mind.

"Little" Stevie was gone for good. But sometimes it seemed as if he was the only one who noticed.

Higher Ground


All the world was change in those difficult days --- all was upheaval, turmoil, riots, war, assassination. Stevie's life had changed, too. He was an adult, married now to Syreeta Wright, a Motown secretary turned singer.

The problem was that his music reflected none of that change.

So he decided not to sign with Motown, not to sign with anybody. The result was that, for the first time in ten years, he had no record contract to fulfill, no release schedule hanging over his head, nobody's expectations to meet. Nothing to do but make music. It was liberating.

Stevie moved to New York City and closed himself in a recording studio. There he wrote dozens of songs and experimented with a device he had been turned on to by the brilliant technicians and musicians Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff: it was called a Moog synthesizer, an electronic keyboard with the ability to reproduce just about any sound imagination could conceive.

Stevie stayed in the studio for the better part of a year. When he left, he had completed the album Music Of My Mind. He considered offers from several companies, and then he chose to sign with... Motown. But there would be one important stipulation: He was to have complete creative control over his work.

It was a difficult concession but eventually, Motown gave in. And a new era of Wonder began.

It began slowly, though. "Superwoman," chronicling his relationship with Syreeta, was only a moderate hit.

Then came Talking Book --- Stevie Wonder's personal declaration of independence. Or, more to the point, his declaration that the era of "Little" Stevie was gone forever.

It was a declaration you sensed even before you heard a note from the album, a declaration you saw right on the cover, where Stevie appeared for the first time in the ornate African braids that would become his trademark. Moreover, he appeared for the first time without another trademark --- the sunglasses behind which he had always hidden his unseeing eyes. Finally, the album's title --- which appeared on the cover's first printing in Braille --- was a reference to a then-new device which translated printed words into spoken ones, enabling the blind to "read" print.

Musically, Talking Book picked up where Music Of My Mind left off and went forward from there. Stevie's new music was intimate, thoughtful, personal, political --- a soul stew of muscular synthesizer riffs and otherworldly effects offset by delicate clavinet and keyboard work. Among the many highlights: the scalding, socio-political "Big Brother" and a couple of gorgeous, gossamer ballads of love lost and found ("You And I" and "I Believe When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever").

It was another song, though, that smelled like a hit to Motown.

When Stevie debuted "Superstition" at Harlem's legendary Apollo Theater, the audience booed. "People weren't ready for it," he has said. "They wanted to hear 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered' and I can understand that, because that is what they heard for the most part on the radio."

But the Apollo audience had it wrong that day. "Superstition" came tearing out of the starting gate and didn't stop until it had nailed the top of the pop charts. "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life," an anthem of sweet love that followed it to number one, went on to become an American standard.

Stevie was just warming up. The next album, Innervisions, is arguably his definitive masterwork, a deftly textured exploration of one man's soul concerns. It touches issues of opportunism ("He's Misstra Know It All," a hit in England), drugs ("Too High"), faith ("Jesus Children Of America"), love ("All In Love Is Fair," "Golden Lady") and utopian dreaming ("Visions") with scalpel-sharp observations, mocking humor and bracing optimism. It also sold like crazy, helped in no small part by its three hit singles: the Brazilian-flavored "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing", the deeply funky "Higher Ground" and his classic lament for the wretched and poor, "Living For The City."

And then, it all came to a shocking halt.

Traveling east through North Carolina. Stevie's cousin swerves to pass a logging truck. Hits it instead. A log dislodges. Comes through the windshield. Smashes into the skull of the man sleeping in the front passenger seat --- Stevie.

Bloodied and unconscious, he is taken to a hospital. The diagnosis is grim. A broken skull. Severe brain contusion. And a coma.

Day after day, there's nothing but silence from the broken man lying in the hospital bed. And then one sweet day, as his publicist and friend Ira Tucker is singing "Higher Ground" in his ear, Stevie's fingers begin moving in time to the song.

And they know for the first time that he's going to be all right.

No, better. He would return with a vengeance.

The following year, Stevie picked up five prizes at the Grammy Awards, including Best Album for Innervisions. He wrote and produced songs for Syreeta, his now ex-wife, along with Minnie Riperton and Rufus featuring Chaka Khan. That flurry of activity was followed by his album Fulfillingness' First Finale, which produced the energetic hits, "You Haven't Done Nothing"--- a swipe at President Richard Nixon--- and "Boogie On Reggae Woman."

All of which helped make his next album one of the most eagerly-anticipated musical events of the decade. There were many delays, though, and it took two years --- until the spring of 1976 --- for Stevie to deliver Songs In The Key Of Life. It was worth the wait. A mammoth two-album-plus opus that hurtles fearlessly between stylistic extremes, played by an impressive array of core musicians and special guests, Songs debuted at number one.

"Sir Duke," a tribute to Duke Ellington and more of Stevie's musical heroes, and "I Wish," supposedly written after a Motown company picnic, became huge hits. But Songs was so successful it rendered the very idea of hit singles obsolete. Even the non-singles, like "Isn't She Lovely," "Knocks Me Off My Feet" and "If It's Magic," seemed to always be playing somewhere. So no one was surprised when, once again, Stevie took home the Grammy for Best Album.

Stevie closed the amazing decade with a stunning stylistic double punch: He released in late 1979 Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants, his soundtrack to a film of the same name. It is an ambitious orchestral suite, like nothing he or any other Motown performer had ever attempted before; that year, Stevie played it live to a screening of the film at New York's Metropolitan Opera House backed by an all-black symphony orchestra. Hotter Than July, in an uncharacteristically swift release, followed a year later. It is an irresistible piece of ear candy, highlighted by the hit single, "Master Blaster (Jammin')," a propulsive tribute in reggae time to the Jamaican giant, Bob Marley.

And with that, an amazing decade came to an end. Creatively, critically and commercially, Stevie Wonder had dominated the seventies. His songs were on everyone's lips, his praises sung from every corner. He had conquered the world.

He was 30 years old.

World Citizen


There was a change in him as the 1980s dawned, one less heralded but no less profound than the one that had come the previous decade. Music was still his love --- his unrivaled passion --- but Stevie had evolved a need to press his music and celebrity into the service of something larger than pop stardom.

Not that he had forgotten how to craft a hit. From "Do I Do" to "Part-Time Lover" to "Overjoyed" to "That Girl," he would prove time and again that his effortless way with a hook and a lyric remained undiminished. Indeed, "I Just Called To Say I Love You," from Stevie's soundtrack to the Gene Wilder comedy, The Woman In Red, is one of the signature songs of the eighties. It won an Academy Award.

Nor did Stevie rest on his laurels in the nineties. Jungle Fever, his soundtrack to the Spike Lee movie of the same name, produced the hit "These Three Words." Conversation Peace, the follow-up album, yielded another hit ballad, "For Your Love." There were five years between those two albums, but even during his absence, Stevie was present. His deep grooves inspired alternative funk-rockers the Red Hot Chili Peppers to cover "Higher Ground." His fluid singing and imaginative phrasing influenced a generation of new jacks, most notably Jodeci, who scored big with a new version of Stevie's classic ballad, "Lately."

Hip-hoppers, meantime, enjoyed great success with songs built on the bones of old Stevie hits. Will Smith's theme song to "Wild Wild West" was powered by a sample of "I Wish." Coolio's "Gangster's Paradise" was Stevie's "Pastime Paradise" in disguise. Add to that list Janet Jackson, Wu-Tang Clan, De La Soul, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, Ginuwine, and more.

And yet, for all his continued success and undeniable prowess as a recording artist, that sense of needing to serve something larger continued to pull him. He had always lent his time and talent to social causes, but as he grew older, he began to attack them with an urgency and a sense of mission.

Stevie Wonder in the eighties and nineties was as much activist as musician. As much star as humanist. Wherever people were striving, he was there. Whether the issue was police brutality, hunger, human rights or the environment, Stevie was a tireless campaigner for justice.

In the early nineties, Stevie publicly pondered entering politics with a run for mayor of Detroit. Not long after, he embarked upon a major tour in conjunction with American Express; it was designed to raise money to feed the hungry. And when the Million Man March assembled on the Washington Mall in 1996, no one was surprised to find Stevie Wonder one of the million.

As far as Stevie is concerned, celebrity and fame have no higher use than this. As he told the Boston Globe a few years ago, the problem with modern popular music is that "It's not about getting a message across anymore --- it's all about how much money can be generated... People don't want the truth, they want the juice, the gossip. We're more comfortable looking at people and judging them than we are taking a long, hard look at ourselves. I'm always hearing people say, 'Wow, this world is really messed up' --- as if they don't live in it."

His goals, then, are as lofty as they are unambiguous. Stevie Wonder wants to change the world.

Wonder Full


Of course, some might say that he already has.

He has expanded the boundaries of his art, revised the architecture of the modern pop song. He's made it possible for white folks and Jewish folks and English folks and Polish folks and even South African folks to all sing on the same page as a blind black man from the bad side of town.

Stevie followed 1995's Conversation Peace with Natural Wonder, a live recording with two new tracks. Since then, save for a few guest appearances, nothing. So we wait for the next offering, the next step toward higher ground. And in the meantime, we pause here for summation of a brilliance that has illuminated our lives for many years.

We look forward with anticipation. And in the meantime we look back with, well...

Wonder.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is the author of Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood (Longstreet Press), and writes a syndicated column on family and social issues. Pitts' work has also been featured in Musician, Spin, Soul, Parenting, TV Guide, Reader's Digest and Billboard, and as the pop music critic for the Miami Herald he was a finalist for the 1992 Pulitzer Prize.

by Leonard Pitts, Jr.

 

***

 

Stevie Wonder

 

When little Stevie Wonder's family moved to Detroit, his mother was afraid to let her seven-year-old boy, who had been blind since birth, out of the house. And a brilliant musical career was launched. To pass the time, Wonder would beat spoons on pots, pans, and any other surface that helped him keep rhythm with the tunes he heard on the radio. As he became proficient on various real instruments, he started playing at the local church and soon grew to be something of a neighborhood sensation. His local fame reached critical mass when Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown, came to hear the ten-year-old Wonder, and signed him on the spot. His first album for Motown, 12-Year-Old Genius, had a monster hit with "Fingertips, Part 2." He hit the road with other Motown acts, and scored hits with "Up-Tight (Everything's Alright)," "For Once in My Life," and "I Was Made to Love Her."

 

Although Wonder co-produced, wrote, and played many of the instruments on his albums, Motown still maintained a stranglehold over his professional and personal life. Motown had Wonder appearing with whiter-than-white Frankie Avalon and purer-than-pure Annette Funicello in such fare as Bikini Beach. Is it any wonder that he wanted out of his contract when he turned twenty-one? The split from Motown was bitter, but by starting his own studio, Wonder was able to start exploring: he made records that combined elements of gospel, rock and roll, jazz, African, and Latin American rhythms. Wonder eventually made amends with Gordy, and Motown distributed Music of My Mind. In 1972, Wonder went on tour as the Rolling Stones' opening act (they had been his opening act years before), and this introduction to white audiences was pivotal to his success as an adult performer.

 

From 1972 through 1976, he had hit after hit, including classics such as "Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)," "Superstition," and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life." A near-fatal car crash in 1973 led him to reevaluate his goals in life, and he started to concentrate on altruistic causes: he lobbied the federal government to create the Martin Luther King, Jr., national birthday holiday; in 1982, he played the Peace Sunday concert to protest nuclear weapons and promote peace; and he recorded a number of songs that urged racial harmony ("Ebony and Ivory," with Paul McCartney), opposed drunk driving ("Don't Drive Drunk"), and fought world hunger ("We Are the World"). Wonder's anti-apartheid work was recently acknowledged when he was invited to meet with South African president Nelson Mandela, who said, "Stevie Wonder is my son, and I speak to him with great affection."

 

In the nineties, Wonder put together the soundtrack for Spike Lee's controversial film Jungle Fever, and he released the critically acclaimed Conversation Peace, which was eight years in the making, but well worth the wait. Wonder's long career has been remarkable not just for his musical genius, but for his persistence in overcoming obstacles — most notably his blindness — that have stood in his way. Witness his recent participation at a charity auction: he drove James Bond's BMW Roadster onstage to help auction it off.

 

 

Histórico (em português)

 

 

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