Stevie Wonder: The Artist, The Activist, The Wonder (ful)

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Stevie Wonder cemented his place in history as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century in the 1970s with multiple chart-topping hits and timeless albums such as {Songs in the Key of Life} ( 1976). (Courtesy photo)

By Micha Green
AFRO DC and digital editor
[email protected]

Stevland Hardaway Morris’s accomplishments over his more than six decades in the entertainment industry are astounding, but the 1970s took what was already a stupendous career to the next level. By the 1970s, after turning 20 in May, the music prodigy had already dropped the nickname “Little” to his stage name in the 1960s, and Stevie Wonder began his journey in his career as adult, creating music that solidified his truly brilliant artistry. , activism and “Wonder”.

Songs such as “For Once in My Life” and “Yesteryou, Yesterme, Yesterday” were already topping the charts in the late 60s and were still on the air in 1970, and with the new decade came more songs. and successful games. change music.

In August 1970, Stevie Wonder made it clear his transformation into his adult character with the classic song “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” by singing “Here I am, baby.” Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours ”, and was the first album that the multi-faceted artist has received producer credit with Motown. Almost four decades later, in 2008, Senator Barack Obama used “Signed, Sealed, Issued” for his introduction to the national political scene and blew the tune when he celebrated his election as the 44th President of the United Nations. United States.

In 1972, Wonder was on a roll, releasing two albums: Music of my mind, with the title “Superwoman (Where were you?)” and Talking book which contained the hit songs, “Superstition” and “You are the Sunshine of My Life”, as well as. Talking book earned Wonder her first Grammy Awards receiving 76 Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for “You are the Sunshine of My Life”, and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song for “Superstition.”

The following year he released “Innervisions” with timeless tunes such as “Living for the City”, “Higher Ground”, “All in Love is Fair”, “He’s Misstra Know It All”, “Golden Lady” and Afro-Latin Influence Tube, “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing”. Interior visions won him Album of the Year and Best Non-Classical Engineering Recording at the 16th Grammy’s Awards with “Living for the City”, a jam that speaks to the public to date, won the award for Best R&B Song . Interior visions was Wonder’s baby. Almost the entire album is the work of Wonder, from playing all the instruments on six of the album’s nine tracks, to singing most parts, writing the music, and using the major songwriting. ARP synthesizer. To this day, music critics consider Interior visions as a major point in Wonder’s career and a major influence on black and American musical canons.

“This recording represents the pinnacle of the career of a very important artist and of his physically blind, yet extraordinary human vision. For all intents and purposes, and for all its richness and variety of textures, this is essentially Stevie Wonder. He personally created and arranged every sound he heard, ”wrote Bill Shapiro, former editor of LIFE wrote, according to Jazz Record Art Collective. “Her canvas stretches from the harsh realities of the ghetto streets to the transcendent joy of spiritual acceptance, each rendered with an original and unique musical palette. The feel is a bit more jazz than funk, the result is simply glorious pop music – uplifting sound and message.

He followed his annual album releases in 1974, with “Fulfillingness’ First Finale”, featuring songs like “Boogie on Reggae Woman”, “Creepin ‘” and “You Haven’t Done Nothin'”, which included backing vocals of the Jackson 5. Once again, he was a big winner at the Grammys, taking home Album of the Year, Best Male Pop Vocal and “Boogie on Reggae Woman,” taking home the award for Best Male Vocal Performance. rhythm and blues.

Two years later, Stevie Wonder released an album which, according to this journalist, changed the trajectory of rhythm and blues, Songs in the Key of Life. The album had four sides, with hit songs such as “Sir Duke”, Ngiculela – Es Una Historia – I Am Singing “,” Knocks Me Off My Feet “,” I Wish “,” As “,” Pastime Paradise “,” If It’s Magic “,” Another Star “and a major breakthrough in his artivism with the song” Black Man. “Stevie Wonder won Album of the Year at the 19th Grammy Awards for Songs in the Key of Life.

In his 1976 Rolling Stone review of Songs in the Key of Life, Vince Aletti was not so sure about the strength and impact of the album. Having won Album of the Year at the time and still being considered one of the best albums of all time, Aletti’s review may seem a bit hateful, but there were moments in the article. where it was clear that he understood the importance of what is now considered a masterpiece, such as in his breakup from “Black Man”.

“Wonder’s message songs have always been a bit heavy, but ‘Black Man’ at 8:29, the longest track on the album, is one of his most effective. On a percolating and punchy beat, the song is essentially didactic, a bicentennial history lesson bringing together key figures of the American melting pot with a powerful chorus that preaches (and sometimes demands), “It’s time we learn / This world was made for all Men. ‘”

Wonder put her heart and soul in Songs in the Key of Life. Motown’s Berry Gordy gave him a huge check for the album, which took an extra year to complete, and caused major angst between him and the famous record label owner, and although 130 people contributed to the work, most of the big work was done by the brain artist himself.

After completing the triumphant masterpiece that is Songs in the Key of Life, Wonder did not release another album until 1979- SWonder’s journey through the secret life of plants, which featured Billboard’s hit song, “Send One Your Love”.

However, in addition to the album, in 1979, Wonder began concocting a song that didn’t come out until 1980, but that will not only live on as the birthday dedication to one of the greatest leaders in the world. America and history, but in African American communities, is also called “the black version of Happy Birthday”. Wonder called Coretta Scott King in 1979 to share with her a dream that he said would continue her husband’s “dream” and legacy.

“I told her, you know, ‘I dreamed of this song. And I imagined in that dream I was doing this song. We were also walking with petition boards to make Dr. King’s birthday a party. national, ”Wonder said. CNN presenter Anderson Cooper in 2011.

Wonder said Scott King was excited but didn’t expect Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. to be remembered and recognized by the United States in this way. She was wrong.

King’s life meant a lot to Wonder, whose earliest memories of the powerful speaker were as a child listening to him preach and speak on the radio. At 16, Wonderful had the opportunity to meet King at a Chicago Freedom Movement rally. A month before his 18th birthday, King was assassinated, which is said to have left a major imprint on the young artist, who has become a declared activist in everyday life and through his music.

Eventually, groups, lobbyists and politicians worked together to make the King’s birthday a national holiday, but much of the effort was led by Wonder and his famous song “Happy Birthday”, which has become a hymn for the legacy of the civil rights leader, but for Black Families across the United States.

Winner of the District of Columbia Jazz Award, Washington City Paper’s Artist of the Year (2016) and multi-instrumentalist Elijah Jamal Balbed told AFRO how much Wonder made a difference in his training as an artist.

“I was fortunate enough to grow up with a mom who loves music, so when I was a kid I heard it all: Jazz, Rock, R&B, Funk / Soul, and even Go-Go. But since my childhood, Stevie Wonder has been and remains a constant musical thread in my life, ”said Balbed. “Songs in the Key of Life was one of the soundtracks from my childhood. “Sir Duke” has always been a personal favorite, and I discovered it was written for Duke Ellington! ”

Balbed, himself a composer and founder of the JoGo Project, noted the intricacies of Wonder’s musicality and artistry.

“What I find interesting looking back on those days is that to my untrained musical ear, the songs didn’t sound that complicated or difficult. It just sounded like great music, ”Balbed said. However, any musician who has had to learn a Stevie tune for a gig knows that his music is actually quite harmonically complex. Some of his songs that I have grown to love more recently are ‘Higher Ground’ and ‘ Send One Your Love. “He even released a GoGo track last year, so you can tell he’s always open to new things and growing as a musician. Stevie is a genius in every way. view, and I consider myself a blessed human to exist in the same domain as him!

Award-winning musician and chairman of the board of directors of the Capitol Hill Jazz Foundation, Aaron Meyers has weighed in on Wonder’s major contribution to music to date.

“Every aspect of black music today has been influenced by Stevie Wonder. Personally, I’m proud to hear how he interweaved different keys in melodies like “Until You Come Back to Me”, which he wrote for Aretha Franklin. The clever way in which he leads a group, while accompanying himself, has been a master class for all performers to follow. We were both members of the Church of God in Christ in West Angeles at the same time, and her dedication to her faith is also seen in her music. The best gig I have ever seen was when he was brought on stage spontaneously to do a Bob Marley song with Ziggy Marley and Mos Def, ”Myers told the AFRO. “Everything I write, whether consciously or unconsciously, will have its imprint, just like most artists today. “

Myers is not the only artist who attributes musical inspiration to the brilliant and prolific musician, who still makes music to this day. The 2002 India Arie song, “Wonderful (Stevie Wonder Dedication),” is a musical tribute to the great artist, with the verses containing lyrics that are a fusion of the song titles of Wonder (highlighted below in bold ). As a huge Wonder fan, Arie’s words were a perfect summary of Stevie Wonder’s brilliance.

“(Verse 1) You are the sun of my life. Another Shakespeare of your time. You are like a ribbon in the sky. You are the endless rhyme of a poet. You take me to a higher ground, so you knock me off my feet. Recently I thought of you, because you have been infiltrate’ in my dreams.

“(Bridge) You inspire me, the way you make me feel inside is amazing. Your honesty, your artistry is engaging. You are everything I hope to be.

“(Chorus) You touched my soul. I want you to know that you are my hero. You have so much soul. To put it plainly and simply, you are wonderful.

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