Stevie Wonder: One of the most important figures in black music and American culture

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Everyone loves Stevie Wonder. If you haven't been at a basement party singing along to "I Just Called to Say I Love You" in punch-drunk love and harmony, you haven't lived. Born Stevland Hardaway Morris in 1950, Stevie Wonder was a child prodigy who has been blind since birth. His classical prowess on several instruments and the expressiveness of his voice has led him down a path of unprecedented fame, political impact and societal reverence.

Songs like "Superstition," "I Was Made to Love Her" and, especially, "Higher Ground" are the very foundation from which modern soul music was born. Heralded for his songwriting skills and difficult compositions, Wonder is a rhythm-and-blues anthropologist. His songs tell the story of the times ("Village Ghetto Land" foreshadowed the crack era with eerie prominence), with Stevie's use of harmonica, congos, bongos and his unmistakable affecting voice.

"As" might be one of the most heartfelt love songs ever written, and "Isn't She Lovely," penned for his daughter Aisha at her birth, is a perfect example of unconditional and unstoppable love. Stevie's won 22 Grammy awards, the most ever by a male solo artist, reinventing the themes discussed in his music and maintaining lyrical eloquence along the way.

Talking Book, released in 1972, included the track "Superstition," and Innervisons, released in 1973, set the pace for Wonder's Grammy-winning streak. When Songs in the Key of Life was released, in 1976, there was no stopping his reign. Hotter than July, his first platinum-selling album, changed the landscape of music with its inclusion of "Happy Birthday," the ode to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Stevie's campaign to observe Dr. King's birthday as a national holiday.

With a slew of high-profile collaborations ("Ebony and Ivory" with Paul McCartney, for one), too many funk classics to count (listen to the ten-minute "Do I Do" and jam yourself silly) and unsurpassable musicianship, Stevie Wonder is one of the most important artists in black music and American entertainment culture.

February has traditionally been the month when the contributions from, traditions of and historical facts about African-Americans are celebrated. In honor of Black History Month, Backbeat will be celebrating iconic figures in the world of black music.



Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music

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