Stevie Wonder Critical Essays

Introduction

Stevie Wonder 1950–

(Born Steveland Judkins Morris) Black American songwriter, arranger, musician. Wonder is often considered responsible for expanding the range of rhythm and blues music through his use of diverse musical elements; reggae, jazz, blues, and rock are all part of his repertoire. Wonder's audience reflects this diversity; he was one of the first black artists to achieve the mass popularity and initial acclaim previously attributed to white performers. His keen sense of sound, perhaps enhanced by his blindness, steered him towards developing his musical interests as a young child. At the age of nine, he was under contract with Motown records, and was referred to as "the little boy wonder" around the studio, thus creating his recording name. A talented harmonica player, he soon mastered all the other instruments used as backup for his music, an accomplishment allowing for varied musical expression. As he matured both physically and stylistically, Wonder transcended the limiting image often set for Motown performers and their contract restrictions to develop a distinctive, personal approach. The year 1971 was pivotal for Wonder: he gained artistic control over his music, becoming one of the few artists who continues to govern his own creativity in this manner, and independently released Music of My Mind, an innovative album which set a precedent for all of his following recordings. Wonder's life was greatly affected by a near fatal auto accident in 1973. This brush with death led to a spiritual rebirth which is often expressed in his music, such as "Have a Talk with God" and "Higher Ground." Critics concede that his music sustains his lyrics, which have been called belabored and repetitious. His songs, however, reflect his genuinely optimistic and enthusiastic attitude towards life, often dealing with the many forms of love. The recipient of numerous Grammy awards, Wonder continues to be an inspiring songwriter and performer and one who, despite a sporadic recording career, consistently meets the expectations and maintains the respect of his audience.