Stevie Wonder

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Jack Slater

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 438

[Stevie Wonder] has begun writing and producing music exploring several layers of experience—music that addresses itself not only to one's romantic needs but to racial grief, urban defeat, transcendental perception and, more recently, to religious experience.

Because of his music's transformation and also because of its variety, Stevie Wonder … has become all things to all who hear him: the child prodigy who made the transition to adulthood as a productive musician, the blind seer apocalyptically exposing America's injustices, the sightless man-child who still manages to smile, the musician who refused to accept the tyranny and paternalism of corporate recording interests, the black flower-child ruled by visions and astrological signs, the blind nature-boy telling us that the only thing which matters is to love and be loved in return, the black brother who has "made it," who is still "for real" and still funky and, finally—and perhaps most burdensome of all—the young man who has become, as some whites tell him, an example and an inspiration for his people. (pp. 30-1)

Since Where I'm Coming From, Stevie's albums have become increasingly mental, increasingly social and more spiritual in tone, a tone which is particularly evident in Songs in the Key of Life. And he succeeds in achieving that tone without ever becoming pious or academic or stilted; for much of his music is firmly rooted in a joyous gospel-like beat that often embraces lyrics of incredible beauty. If Stevie Wonder is a musician of considerable power, he is also a poet of considerable passion. (p. 34)

Since Stevie is, despite his various images, a rather self-contained and intensely self-absorbed person, his blindness may … accentuate, may feed the particular quality of that self-absorption, which in turn might feed his clearly spiritual bent. His self-absorption, however, is exactly what makes him such a remarkable entertainer, because an audience very naturally provides him with a release, a respite from self.

Since he is young and gifted—and open—his music will probably continue to grow, to expand in new directions. One can easily imagine a Stevie Wonder, at 50 or 60, becoming what would then be a kind of latter-day Duke Ellington.

For the moment, however, the extraordinary thing about the Wonder man is that he, a sightless child out of a Detroit slum ghetto, has managed through music to reach a world outside of himself, a world beyond the darkness surrounding him. The music in turn has helped countless others toward enough sight to see beyond themselves. (p. 36)

Jack Slater, "Stevie Wonder: The Genius of the Man and His Music," in Ebony (© copyright, 1977, by Johnson Publishing Co., Inc.), January, 1977, pp. 29-36.

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