Stevie Wonder – Musician and Statesman

Stevie is one of the best known and best loved musicians in the world today. He had written and sung some of the world’s best known popular songs with a string of huge hits across the globe including ‘You Are the Sunshine of My Life’, ‘For Once in My Life’, ‘My Cherie Amour’, ‘Superstition’, ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’, ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours’, ‘Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yester-Day’, ‘Isn’t She Lovely’, ‘Living For the City’, ‘Happy Birthday’, ‘Ebony and Ivory’, ‘I Was Made to Love Her’, ‘Uptight’ and many more. 

Born Stevland Hardaway Morris in Michigan, USA in 1950, his premature birth caused retinal detachment resulting in permanent blindness. But it was clear from very early in his life that his strong will and exceptional musical talent would not allow any disability to hold him back. A child prodigy who excelled on piano, harmonica, drums and bass, he also sang in the church choir. Stevie’s talent did not go unnoticed and he was signed to the famous Tamla Motown record label at the age of just eleven under the stage name Stevie Wonder. 

Stevie has had outstanding commercial success with more than 30 top ten hit singles, including 10 number ones in the US, and 22 Grammy awards. He also has an Academy Award for the song ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’, and a Lifetime Achievement Award. Stevie has been inducted into both the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone magazine named him the ninth greatest singer of all time and he was only the fourth artist to receive the Montreal Jazz Festival Spirit Award in 2009. His world-wide album sales currently top 100 million.

The Secret of Success

Above all of this success though, Stevie believes he would not have been successful at all if it were not for his faith in Jesus Christ. He is a lifelong Christian who attributes his gifts and his success to God. His life in music started as a child in Whitestone Baptist Church. Stevie’s parents separated and his mother moved to Detroit. He says,

Many years ago, there were those who said, ‘Well, you have three strikes against you: You’re black, you’re blind and you’re poor.’ But God said to me, ‘I will make you rich in the spirit of inspiration, to inspire others as well as create music to encourage the world to a place of oneness and hope and positivity.’ I believed Him and not them!”

His faith has often been strong in his songs from old hits like ‘Heaven Help us All’ in 1970 to more recent tracks like ‘Have a Talk With God’ where he urges,

“When you feel your life’s too hard,  just go have a talk with God.

Alongside a strong faith in God, Stevie continues to have faith in mankind and believes it really is possible for people to live in peace and harmony. But he is vexed with the hypocrisy that can be seen too often in those claiming to love God. As a pacifist, he  chastises Christians who go to war. Stevie is also angry at extremist Muslims and others who say they have ‘faith in God’ but who then kill the innocent. He is not a politically correct politician and is not afraid to air his views publicly;

The God that I believe in doesn’t believe in bombing, and the Allah that I respect for Muslims doesn’t believe in terrorizing innocent people.”

Near Death Experience

A near fatal accident in the early seventies strengthened Stevie’s Christian faith at a crucial time. On 6th August, 1973, he was seriously injured and almost killed in a car accident. He is sure that God kept him alive to use his musical gifts to help and encourage more people. He now sees the date as very significant,

It was on August 6 that I almost died in that car accident. It was also on August 6 in 1988 that my son Kwame was born! Life is funny. But I was blessed to come out of it. God gave me life to continue to do things that I would never have done.”

A prolific songwriter for more than 50 years, Stevie continues to write and perform. He has influenced every generation since the 1960’s. Speaking of his talent, he credits God with giving him ideas and helping him to write and perform;

“I can’t say that I’m always writing in my head but I do spend a lot of time in my head writing or coming up with ideas. And what I do usually is write the music and melody and then, you know, maybe the basic idea. But when I feel that I don’t have a song [I]  just say, ‘God, please give me another song’, and I just am quiet and it happens”.

Not a Perfect Christian

Stevie does not claim to be a ‘perfect Christian’ as some would expect of him. Life has not always run smoothly for the world renowned singer/songwriter. He has had two broken marriages together and several long-term relationships. Critics of his Christian faith point to his past and his failings. It is all too easy to criticise, but nowhere does the Bible say that Christians are perfect people. On the contrary, genuine Christians are humble, broken people who recognise their need of God’s forgiveness and of the Saviour, Jesus Christ. Stevie fits the bill. He openly admits his weaknesses and failings, and his need of God’s forgiveness.

The current Stevie Wonder is a man who loves to talk about Jesus Christ and his perfect example of love and grace. God gave a very special gift to mankind when he sent Jesus into the world.

Stevie gives credit to his godly mother and his Christian family both for helping him to find Jesus Christ and to achieve something positive in life. Singing at a large Church of Christ event in 2011 he projected a very humble image. He said,

I’m very happy to be here because this is where we give our praise to Father God. God blessed me with the opportunity of moving from Stevland Morris to becoming Stevie Wonder …my question is always ‘what can I do to just do one percent in my lifetime in appreciation of what God has done for me in one second? I have committed myself to using my voice, my music, to give hope to people throughout the world for this is what I believe God wants me to do. Whether it be singing a love song about the love of two people for each other, or whether it be singing a song about the love I have for my God and His Son Jesus Christ…”

Stevie spoke of how he believed that God longed to do miracles in the world, but that He would do those miracles through people of faith expressing practical love for others rather than people of faith living lives which caused division and pain. He spoke of how the world spoke highly of him and his music, but how he felt he had achieved virtually nothing compared to what God has done for him. Stevie said that the little he had achieved was solely down to God having given him a gift and making a way for him to be a singer and a performer. Before singing a gospel song he concluded,

“For everything I have received [in life] I give all praise to God“.

Longevity and Maturity

Stevie Wonder’s first hit was as a 13 year old in 1963. ‘Fingertips’ reached the number one slot in the US. His first gospel hit ‘Heaven Help us All’ in 1970 was also a secular success, reaching number 9 in the US and number 29 in the UK. His albums ‘Innervisions’ and ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ made him a worldwide phenomenon in the 1970’s. He continues to be a popular performer across the world and also sings gospel as a guest performer in churches.

Back in the ’70’s, in his young rebellious days, Stevie wrote a song which was critical of some of the forms of Christianity he had encountered in his homeland. ‘Jesus Children of America’ expressed his disappointment at the then popular forms of organised Christianity which spoke loudly about morality but expressed little love and compassion,

Hello Jesus, Jesus children,
Jesus loves you, Jesus children
Hello children – Jesus loves you – of America
Are you hearing what he’s saying?
Are you feeling what you’re praying?
Are you hearing, praying, feeling what you say inside?
You’d better tell your story fast
And if you lie it will come to pass
Tell me holy (Holy roller) Holy roller
(Are you standing) Are you standing
(Like a soldier?) Like a soldier?
(Well) Are you standing for everything you talk about?
Holy roller…

But in recent years Stevie has changed his approach. As he has matured, Stevie has put greater emphasis on singing gospel songs at his concerts. He says his favourite gospel song is ‘Falling in Love With Jesus’ by his good friend and minister Jonathan Butler. He says this is his favourite gospel song because, “- the words so clearly express how I feel…”

Falling In love with Jesus
Falling In love with Jesus
Falling In love with Jesus
Was the best thing I ever, ever done

In His arms I feel protected
In His arms never disconnected (no no)
In His arms I feel protected
There’s no place I’d rather rather be

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* photo 1: (by Peter Sousa, public domain photo) Stevie Wonder receiving the Gershwin Awared for Public Achievement from President Barak Obama, 2009.

* photo 2:  Stevie playing live in his early days.

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