Stevie Wonder: The Maestro Behind the Music

In the history of popular music, there have been many great singers, musicians, and songwriters, but there’s only one Stevie Wonder. Since he was a child star under the moniker  ‘Little Stevie Wonder” on Motown Records, his musical gifts have been a part of the fabric of American culture for more than six decades, and his commitment to Black freedom and equality across the world has made him one the world’s most beloved personalities.

His songs such as “I Was Made to Love Her,” “For Once in My Life,” “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” Superstition, “Living Just Enough For the City,” Higher Ground,” “As,” “I Wish,” and many more are some the soundtracks to our lives.

He won Album of the Year for three consecutive LPs at Grammys for Fulfillingness’ First Finale, Innervisions, and Songs in the Key of Life, the first artist to accomplish the feat.

Tears of a Clown, Smokey Robinson, and the Miracles, 1970

Smokey Robinson was already a star and a highly regarded songwriter who helped to shape the Motown Sound since the label’s inception. But when Stevie Wonder, at 17 years old, gave him the demo of “Tears of a Clown” at a Christmas party, Robinson could not deny its brilliance. Recorded by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, on their Make It Happen in 1967,  the album was later reissued in 1970 as The Tears of a Clown, and the song became a number-one hit on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B Singles charts. It also was the first number-one song for which Wonder received writing credit for his work with another artist.

It’s a Shame- The Spinners, 1970

Because of the enormous success of Motown’s other acts, The Spinners were often overlooked during their tenure at the label. Before they achieved international stardom with Atlantic Records, they had the opportunity to work with Wonder, who gave them some magic on “It’s a Shame” in 1970. The track went to number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number three on the R&B singles chart, by far the group’s most successful release on Motown. It also was the first song Wonder produced for another act by himself.

“Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do),” Aretha Franklin, 1973

Originally recorded by Wonder in 1967, “Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)” sat on Motown’s shelf as an unreleased track for several years. Wonder rearranged the song and gave it to the “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin in 1973, and the rest is history. The song went to number three on the Billboard charts and number one on the R&B chart, becoming one of Franklin’s signature songs, thanks to Wonder.

Tell Me Something Good- Rufus, 1974

In 1974, Rufus was a talented but unknown funk band desperately in need of a hit song. Enlisting Wonder’s services, he wrote “Tell Me Something Good,” and the group became a household name. Chaka Khan, the group’s lead vocalist, launched into superstardom. The single peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned Rufus a Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group, or Chorus in 1975.

Lovin’ You, Minnie Riperton, 1974

The range of Minnie Riperton’s voice was otherworldly and it melded perfectly with Wonder’s songwriting and production. After Riperton contributed background vocals on several songs of Wonder’s classic album Fulfillingness’ First Finale, he produced Riperton’s sophomore album Perfect Angel along with her husband Richard Rudolph, including the title track on the album. Using the pseudonym “El Toro Negro,” to avoid contractual conflicts, Wonder also played electric and acoustic piano, harmonica, and drums on the LP and produced “Lovin’ You,” Riperton’s only number-one pop hit.

I Can’t Help It- Michael Jackson, 1979

While never released as a single, “I Can’t Help It” is one of Michael Jackson’s most beloved songs from his classic Off the Wall album. Composed by Wonder, the song would be sampled numerous times by various artists as a testament to Wonder’s singular genius. De La Soul used it on “Breakadawn” and Mary J. Blige sampled it on “All That I Can Say,” just to name a few.

Let’s Get Serious- Jermaine Jackson, 1980

In 1980, Wonder was Hotter Than July (which was also the name of his album released the same year), and he proved that he could write a hit for another member of the Jackson family. This time, he penned “Let’s Get Serious” for Jermaine Jackson. The song became Jackson’s first number-one R&B hit and landed in the top ten of the Billboard chart at number nine. Wonder even lent his vocals to the bridge of the song of this funk masterpiece.

Creepin’- Luther Vandross, 1985

First released by Wonder from his epic LP Fulfillingness’ First Finale in 1974, Luther Vandross gave a silky-smooth rendition of “Creepin’ from his classic album The Night I Fell In Love in 1985. Many 80s babies who grew up knowing Vandross’ cover had no idea that Wonder wrote the song more than a decade before the cover was released. Although it wasn’t released as a single, ‘Creepin’ became a quiet storm staple on Black radio stations nationwide and was frequently performed in Vandross’ live sets. Even Wonder’s deep cuts were incredible.

Lately- Jodeci, 1993

An impeccable ballad about pain and heartbreak, “Lately” was released from Wonder’s Hotter than July album in 1980. Although Wonder’s vocal performance and piano playing were amazing as usual, the song only went to 64 on the US Billboard Hot 100. But when Jodeci covered it on Uptown MTV Unplugged, it became the group’s biggest pop hit, peaking at number four and reached the number one spot on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart. Without question, Jodeci’s cover of “Lately” is arguably the best rendition of a Stevie Wonder composition.

Ribbon In the Sky- Intro, 1993If you have been to a Black wedding, more than likely, you heard Wonder’s “Ribbon in the Sky” performed during the ceremony. A beautiful ballad about love and the power of commitment, it was first released on his greatest hits album, Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I, in 1982 and charted at No. 54 on the pop chart. Over a decade later, the R&B group Intro covered the song in 1993 from their self-titled debut album. Their version of the song went to number 11 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart, making it their most successful single. Receiving the ultimate co-sign, Wonder appeared in the video for the song.