Stevie Wonder started out as one of the biggest names in Motown and became one of the most legendary soul singers in the world.
Wonder is known not only for his singing, but his incredible piano and harmonica skills.
While there is no questioning the vocal virtuosity and musical skill that Wonder has been demonstrating for decades, there are those who wonder why he is normally seen with his iconic sunglasses on.
Is Stevie Wonder Blind?
Yes, Stevie Wonder is blind and has been so since he was six weeks old after being born premature and being placed in an incubator that had too much oxygen.
This led to a condition called Retinopathy of Prematurity, which is a blinding eye disorder that occurs in infants that weigh 2.75 pounds or less and are born before 31 weeks of gestation.
The disorder causes eye growth to stop, which causes an infant’s retinas to detach.
With no connection to the retinas, the eyes are rendered blind in severe cases like Wonder’s condition.
Retinopathy of Prematurity was first diagnosed in 1942, which is only eight years before Stevie Wonder was born.
He was born six weeks premature in Saginaw, Michigan on May 13th of 1950.
Being diagnosed with Retinopathy of Prematurity doesn’t always mean that a child is going to go blind.
Only 10% of all cases need medical treatment, with 400 to 600 infants being described as legally blind from Retinopathy of Prematurity every year in the United States.
Due to Stevie Wonder’s blindness, many people were amazed by his ability to play piano and harmonica.
He is such a talented musician that it has led to rumors about how effective his eyes truly are, despite Wonder being legally blind.
When blind people are capable of doing things with high skill, some people often begin to question their disability.
However, this is hurtful to a lot of blind people who are tired of sighted people discounting a blind person’s entire life experience just because they’ve put in the effort to excel at a skill.
Despite those who question if he is “really” blind, Stevie Wonder has been showing people for generations what the power of music and love of music can do.
His Days As Little Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder’s love of music was heavily influenced by those he grew up around and how much he relied on sound to understand the world around him.
Having grown up in Detroit, he spent a lot of his free time in his local church where he often sang for the choir.
When he was five years old, he had started learning how to play harmonica and was drumming along to the beat of music on any surface he could find.
By the time he was 10 years old, he already knew how to play harmonica, drums, and piano.
The Miracles, a fellow Motown band, first discovered Stevie Wonder when he was 12 years old.
They immediately sent him over to the founder of Motown Records, Berry Gordy Jr., to audition as an independent artist.
Gordy signed Stevie Wonder to the recording label and released Wonder’s first album The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie Wonder in 1962.
This instrumental album focused on the then-12-year-old’s piano and harmonica talent.
Later that same year, Wonder released a tribute album to Ray Charles called Tribute to Uncle Ray, which included Ray Charles’s most popular songs at the time.
When he recorded Little Stevie Wonder Recorded Live: The 12-Year-Old Genius, he was launched into worldwide stardom with his song Fingertips Pt. 2.
Stevie Wonder would spend his teenage years touring all over the country, playing in his own concerts and as a popular act for tours.
While he was touring when he was 15 years old, his life was changed after meeting the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr.
When King was assassinated only three years later, Stevie Wonder flew out to Atlanta for his funeral and fought for decades for King’s birthday to be observed as a national holiday.
Becoming The Stevie Wonder We Know Today
Although Stevie Wonder had been going by Little Stevie Wonder for his first few albums, he was getting older and was no longer the little boy everyone knew him as.
By the mid-1960s, Stevie Wonder decided to drop “Little” from his stage name.
With a new name and the same great reputation, Wonder continued to climb the charts with songs such as Uptight (Everything’s Alright), I Was Made to Love Her, and many more hits.
Stevie Wonder would even work alongside The Beatles, who were huge fans of Motown music and Wonder’s work.
The Beatles were introduced to Stevie Wonder after Paul McCartney saw the young musician perform at Scotch of Saint James Club in London on February 3rd, 1966.
Stevie Wonder was elated to meet McCartney and would later describe him as “a really swinging guy.”
Although Wonder was talented, Motown Records still held most of the control over his music due to him still being under the same contract from when he was a child.
In the 1970s, Stevie Wonder and Motown Records decided that it was time to renew his contract and allow the musician more creative freedom than he had ever been allowed before.
With his first album under the new contract, Stevie Wonder only wanted to include songs that he had written or co-written.
The album was rightfully called Music of My Mind, which is where Stevie Wonder’s talent as a songwriter was truly going to shine.
Throughout the 1970s, Stevie Wonder found even more success as a musician with his albums Talking Books, Innervisions, Fulfillingness’ First Finale, and Songs in the Key of Life.
These albums contained Wonder’s most popular songs such as Superstition, You Are the Sunshine of My Life, Higher Ground, Sir Duke, and I Wish.
Helping Establish Martin Luther King Day
After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Stevie Wonder joined the fight to have Dr. King’s birthday celebrated as a national holiday.
Wonder would go as far as to put a hold on his musical career to hold rallies to try and convince Congress to pass the bill necessary for the holiday to be recognized.
As a musician, Stevie Wonder believed that it was his responsibility to spread a message among all people that would improve the lives of others.
Wonder believed that this new holiday would offer all Americans time to reflect on their history on racial justice and to consider how things can be improved.
The new holiday was also meant to honor those who gave up their lives for the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached.
In 1980, Stevie Wonder released his album Hotter Than July and the hit song Happy Birthday.
Happy Birthday was the last track on the album and gave the campaign for the national holiday a massive boost in popularity.
The song acted as both a popular party anthem and served as a completely honest rebuke of those who were opposed to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
It wasn’t until 1983 when President Ronald Reagan signed the necessary bill to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a nationally recognized holiday.
However, it would take an additional three years before the holiday would actually be observed.
In 2021, Stevie Wonder wrote an open letter to the late Martin Luther King Jr. in which he discussed what a massive impact the Reverend’s words had on his heart at such an early age.
Wonder talked about the progress that the world had made since his passing and how much further change he wanted to see in the world.
Making His Name As A Songwriter
Stevie Wonder was quick to prove in his career that he could create his own music just as well as he could perform.
From early on in his career, Wonder began working on his own songs as well as songs that he’d later give other musicians to perform.
One of the first songs that Stevie Wonder wrote for another musician that became a hit was Smokey Robinson’s The Tears of a Clown.
While it was Robinson who came up with the song’s lyrics, it was 16-year-old Stevie Wonder who wrote the instrumental side of the song.
Some of the songs that Wonder would pass onto other artists were different versions of songs that he’d keep for himself.
The best example of this is with The Spinners’ hit song It’s a Shame and Wonder’s hit song Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours).
Both songs have similar melodies, but they differ in where the focus is put.
For Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours), Wonder focuses on his voice and the bass line while also having a bouncier rhythm.
It’s a Shame focuses on the guitar and has a smoother rhythm.
The Spinners also put their own twist on the vocals that gives the song its own identity.
Both songs maintain the predominant bass line to carry the song.
In 1967, Stevie Wonder co-wrote Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do) with Aretha Franklin.
However, this song was never released officially.
He would later write Tell Me Something Good for the band Rufus.
The song served as Stevie Wonder’s trial run of Funk music.
Minnie Riperton sang his love ballad Lovin’ You, which became a chart-topper for both pop and R&B music.
Wonder would start the 1980s as a songwriter by writing songs for both Jermaine and Michael Jackson.
Working Alongside Other Music Legends
Throughout his career, Stevie Wonder has worked with a variety of musicians who were just as famous as he was.
One of the first musicians to ever perform alongside Wonder was Sammy Ward in 1962, who was best known for his song Who’s The Fool.
During the early 1960s, Little Stevie Wonder would sing and play instruments alongside many of the most popular Motown musicians.
He played harmonica for The Velvelettes, bongos for Connie Van Dyke, and he was drummer for The Four Tops.
When Stevie Wonder’s popularity had begun to spread around the world, he was asked by Jimi Hendrix to join him for a televised concert for the British Broadcasting Corporation.
The opportunity was provided to them by Top Gear, which was an alternative music program that focused on the latest and greatest musicians.
Although most musicians would have seen this performance as one for which they needed to stress about doing well, Wonder and Hendrix saw it as the perfect opportunity to have fun and truly jam together.
Stevie Wonder was on drums for the show and the singers would later perform I Was Made to Love Her together.
After years of being fans of each other, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney got to know each other better after working together on the songs Ebony & Ivory and What’s That You’re Doing.
The pair of musicians got so close that they’d playfully tease each other.
While Paul McCartney was amazed by Stevie Wonder’s ability to live without sight, it was Wonder’s jovial and humorous personality that McCartney appreciated the most.
When Wonder would lose something while they were together, he’d tell the Beatle that he “couldn’t see it” with a cheeky grin.
Wonder would go on to work with other legends such as Elton John and Whitney Houston.
His Relationship With Syreeta Wright
Of all the musicians that Stevie Wonder worked with, the one he worked with the most frequently was Syreeta Wright.
Motown Records gave her the stage name Rita Wright, but she would later go by her original name.
As soon as she was signed to Motown Records, she was paired up with Stevie Wonder.
Together, the pair would produce Syreeta Wright’s first LPs.
During their musical partnership, they found romance and were inspired by their love and life to write music.
After they had collaborated to create Stevie Wonder’s song Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours), the pair found more success than they had ever experienced before.
The summer after their song became popular, the musical couple decided to get married when they were only 20 years old.
They soon began working on Wonder’s next album Where I’m Coming From, for which Wright co-wrote all nine songs.
However, their youth would be the downfall of their marriage, according to Syreeta Wright.
There was no manual for a healthy marriage, and the pair hadn’t learned the life or social skills to make a marriage work at the time.
In the music that the pair wrote together, listeners could experience all the feelings they were going through as their marriage fell apart and eventually led to divorce.
By the time they released Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta, the marriage had come to an end.
Despite how difficult it must have been to work with your ex-spouse, the pair found a lot of healing while working on the musical project.
This album had hit songs such as Your Kiss is Sweet and Spinnin’ and Spinnin’.
The pair would continue to work together peacefully for decades.
Syreeta would later pass away from congestive heart failure as a side effect of chemotherapy in 2004.
Changing The World Around Him
Ever since he was a teenager, Stevie Wonder has understood the responsibility that comes with the platform he has been given.
He understands what a massive change he can make on the world and strives to leave a positive impact on the world.
In the 1980s, Stevie Wonder began to organize and sing for charity singles such as We Are the World and That’s What Friends Are For.
Charity singles would bring all sorts of artists together to create songs to raise awareness and money for different causes.
We Are the World went towards famine relief causes and That’s What Friends Are For was for AIDS awareness.
Wonder has also used his music to raise awareness for different social causes, like the time he won an Academy Award for his song The Woman in Red and dedicated it to Nelson Mandela.
In 1995, Stevie Wonder was awarded the Nelson Mandela Courage Award at the TransAfrican Forum.
Wonder has also been awarded the Gershwin Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, which is the highest honor an American civilian can receive.
Despite his age, Stevie Wonder continues to make the world a better place for the disabled community and all of those who are told that they can’t do something because of a disability.