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Stevie Wonder

Although he had his greatest commercial success in the '70s, by which time the onetime child prodigy was already a seasoned pro, Stevie Wonder remains one of the most beloved figures and dynamic creative forces in the music business today. His entire career has been one of refusing to accept boundaries -- in the early years of the 21st century, for example, he appeared on albums by pop artists including Luther Vandross, Gloria Estefan and Rod Stewart, but also was introduced to a whole new audience when rapper Coolio had a hit with a hip-hopified update of one of Wonder's early songs.

Born Steveland Hardaway Judkins in Saginaw, Michigan (he'd later change his name to Steveland Morris when his mother married), Wonder was a premature baby, and the oxygen treatments he received as a result are believed to have caused his blindness. Young Stevie grew up idolizing Ray Charles and showing amazing musical ability; he was performing in the church choir at 4 and by age 11 had attracted the attention of one of the Miracles. As a result, he was signed to Motown, and although his first two albums didn't set the world on fire, the single from his third, live album, The 12 Year Old Genius, made up for it. The bouncy, cheerful "Fingertips, Pt. 2" made Wonder a star and gave Motown its first #1 album.

Before Wonder was out of his teens, he'd had countless hits and grown tremendously as an artist, co-writing many of his own songs as well as other Motown hits. When he turned 21, and took control of his earnings, he didn't rush into another record deal, but instead built a state-of-the-art studio and spent time learning to use it. By the time he did re-sign with Motown, it was on his own terms, with creative control that was to serve him well.

Starting with 1972's Music of My Mind and culminating with 1976's Songs in the Key of Life, Wonder enjoyed a golden age of artistic achievement, with huge success with the critics and on the charts. In later years he was often to be found in interesting (often charitable) collaborations, from the superstar-heavy famine-relief "We Are the World" single to the cheery, hokey but beloved "Ebony and Ivory" ode to racial harmony with Paul McCartney. He continues to work on varied projects and garner new Grammy Awards as the new millennium progresses.

Written by: Mary Eisenhart

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