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Stevie Wonder, born Stevland Hardaway Judkins, was born on May 13, 1950 in Saginaw, Michigan, United States. His name was later changed to Stevland Hardaway Morris. In Stevie Wonder's mother's authorized biography, Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder's Mother (2002, Simon and Schuster) it states that his surname was legally changed to Morris when he signed with Motown in 1961.
The product of a premature birth, the blood vessels at the back of his eyes had not yet reached the front, and an aborted growth spurt caused the retinas to detach. The medical term for this condition is known as Retinopathy of prematurity, or "ROP", and while it may have been exacerbated by the oxygen pumped into his incubator, this treatment was not the primary cause of his blindness.
When Wonder was 4, his mother left his father and moved herself and her children to Detroit, Michigan. Wonder took up piano at age 7, and had mastered it by age 9. During his early childhood he was active in his church choir. He also taught himself to play the harmonica and the drums, and had mastered both by age ten. Wonder also learned to play the bass during his early years.
Early career, 1961–1971:
Dropping the "Little" from his moniker, Wonder went on to have a number of other hits during the mid-1960s, including "Uptight (Everything's Alright)", "With a Child's Heart", and "Blowin' in the Wind", a Bob Dylan cover which was one of the first songs to reflect Wonder's social consciousness, co-sung by his mentor, producer Clarence Paul. He also began to work in the Motown songwriting department, composing songs both for himself and his label mates, including "Tears of a Clown", a number one hit performed by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles.
Classic Period, 1972–1976:
Wonder independently recorded two albums, which he used as a bargaining tool while negotiating with Motown. Eventually the label agreed to his demands for full creative control and the rights to his own songs, and Wonder returned to Motown in March 1972 with Music of My Mind, an album which is considered a classic of the era.
Commercial period, 1979–1990:
It was in Wonder's next phase that he began to commercially reap the rewards of his legendary classic period. The '80s saw Wonder scoring his biggest hits and reaching an unprecedented level of fame evidenced by increased album sales, charity participation, high-profile collaborations, political impact, and television appearances.
This period had a muted beginning, for when Wonder did return, it was with the soundtrack album Journey through the Secret Life of Plants (1979), featured in the film The Secret Life of Plants.
Later career, 1991–present:
Wonder's songs are renowned for being quite difficult to sing. He has a very developed sense of harmony and uses many extended chords utilizing tensions such as 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, b5s, etc. in his compositions. Many of his melodies make abrupt, unpredictable changes. Many of his vocal melodies are also melismatic, meaning that a syllable is sung over several notes.
Wonder has seven children from several relationships and two marriages: in 1970, to deceased Motown singer Syreeta Wright (the marriage ended in divorce in 1972) and, since 2001, to fashion designer Kai Milla Morris.
His daughter, Aisha Morris, was the inspiration for his hit single "Isn't She Lovely." Aisha Morris is a singer who has toured with her father and accompanied him on recordings, including his 2005 album, A Time 2 Love. Wonder has two sons with Kai Milla Morris; the older is named Kailand and he occasionally performs as a drummer on stage with his father. The younger son, Mandla Kadjay Carl Steveland Morris, was born May 13, 2005, his father's 55th birthday.
In May 2006, Wonder's mother died in Los Angeles, California, at the age of 76. During his September 8, 2008 UK concert in Birmingham he spoke of his decision to begin touring again following his loss. "I want to take all the pain that I feel and celebrate and turn it around".
Wonder is an activist for civil rights and endorsed 2008 United States Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama, who would later be elected 44th President of the United States, the first African American to do so. Apparently, the respect is more than mutual, as Obama responded to a Rolling Stone interview question that asked him who his musical heroes are by saying: "If I had one, it would have to be Stevie Wonder. When I was just at that point where you start getting involved in music, Stevie Wonder had that run with Music of My Mind, Talking Book, Fulfillingness' First Finale and Innervisions, and then Songs in the Key of Life. Those are as brilliant a set of five albums as we've ever seen.
Wonder's success as a socially conscious musical performer influenced popular music.
Among the musicians and performers who list Wonder as one of their major influences are Michael Jackson, Kelis, Janet Jackson, Usher, Dave Matthews, Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross,Tim Foreman, Glen Lewis, Jermaine Jackson, Carrie Underwood, Gloria Estefan, Jonas Brothers, Alicia Keys, Tori Amos, Avia, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Cat Stevens, The Dirtbombs, Kanye West, George Michael, Nik Kershaw, Anthony Kiedis (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Sting, John Ondrasik (Five For Fighting), India.Arie, Musiq Soulchild, John Legend, Jason Kay, (Jamiroquai), Donell Jones, Brandy, Beyoncé Knowles, John Farnham, Jon Gibson, Aaliyah, Ashanti, Babyface, Craig David, Hikaru Utada, Wang Leehom, Shogo Hamada, Shunsuke Kuroda (from the J-pop group Kobukuro), Jim Underwood, and the members of Jodeci, the Neptunes, Spitting Blood, Tayo Oke(Oklet)a Nigerian, Dru Hill, Maroon 5, and Thunder.
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