American singer, songwriter, musician, and producer Stevie Wonder is one of the most celebrated and prominent figures in popular music. To date he has amassed an astounding 49 Top 40 singles, 32 number one singles, and worldwide album sales totaling more than 100 million units.
At the age of 13, Stevie was the youngest recording artist to have achieved a No. 1 single with "Fingertips, Part 2" from his 1963 album, Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius, which also reached No. 1 status. Subsequent Top 10 singles included "I Was Made to Love Her," "For Once in My Life," and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours." Released in the fall of 1972, the album, Talking Book, featured the No. 1 hits "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" and "Superstition"—one of the most famous examples of the sound of the clavinet.
The groundbreaking double album, Songs in the Key of Life, was released in 1976, and remains one of the most recognizable and accomplished albums in pop music history. It debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, and among the top singles, was "Sir Duke," a song dedicated to jazz great Duke Ellington. The album stayed at No. 1 for 14 weeks.
With soaring album sales, high-profile collaborations, charity participation, political activism, and television appearances, Wonder has reached an unparalleled level of fame. His platinum album, Hotter than July, released in 1980, included "Happy Birthday," which became the rallying song of his efforts that helped make Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday. He has won an incredible 25 Grammy Awards, the prestigious Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and received a Golden Globe and an Academy Award in 1984, for the song, "I just Called To Say I Love You" from the movie, The Woman In Red.
In 1999, Stevie became the youngest recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors. He is an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the NAACP Hall of Fame. Wonder has received Lifetime Achievement awards from BET, the Thelonious Monk Institute, and the National Civil Rights Museum, among others. This year, Wonder was named into France’s prestigious National Order of Arts and Letters, an impressive addition to his list of high profile honors.
A multi-instrumentalist, Wonder plays the piano, keyboards, various synthesizers, harmonica, drums, and percussion, and had a significant role in bringing synthesizers to the forefront of popular music. He used new texture and sounds, and encouraged Ray Kurzweil to create a synthesizer that would allow one to play orchestral sounds polyphonically.
Wonder has consistently performed at major events throughout the years, including the closing ceremonies at the 1996 Summer Olympics, halftime at Super Bowl XXXII, and the Lincoln Memorial Celebration in honor of the inauguration of President Barack Obama. In February 2009, Stevie received the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, and he performed his Library of Congress musical commission, "Sketches of Life." He joins a select group of eminent composers who have received library commissions including Aaron Copeland, Leonard Bernstein, to Paquito D’Rivera.
While Stevie Wonder's songs are unequivocally classic and his influence timeless, equally laudable are his humanitarian efforts, philanthropic leadership, and generosity of spirit. His participation in the original, all-star charity single for African famine relief 25 years ago, "We Are the World," became a music industry milestone, and his involvement to end apartheid in South Africa also is legendary. Wonder's philanthropic contributions have been recognized with awards that include the President’s Committee on Employment of Handicapped People, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Children's Diabetes Foundation, and the American Association of People With Disabilities. For more than 10 years, Wonder has provided toys and gifts to all ages with his annual House Full of Toys benefit concert.
In recognition of his support for civil and human rights issues, Wonder was designated in 2009 as a United Nations Messenger of Peace, with a special focus on people with disabilities. President Barack Obama, when asked in a Rolling Stone interview to name his musical heroes, responded with: "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."