He was a miracle baby. Born two months early in the 1950s, he spent his early days on life support in an incubator. The incubator saved his life but not his eyesight, which was lost due to the complications.
Music was both a love and talent from his earliest years. As a child, he played piano, harmonica, and drums. With a friend, he formed a duo that played at dances and parties. Ronnie White of the Miracles overheard the young boy playing harmonica and introduced him to the world of professional music. By 13, he had signed a contract with Motown and wrote a song that became a radio hit.
He was a success from the beginning. Before his teen years were over, he co-wrote much his own music and music for other groups, such as the Miracles and the Spinners. By the time he was 21, he had self-produced an album. As he explored his musical talent, he felt stifled by Motown, which had the final say in his music.
At 21, he created his own publishing company and renegotiated with Motown so he could have full artistic control over his music. Armed with creative freedom, he paved a new way in R&B music. His innovations on the synthesizer produced a unique, new sound that topped the charts.
His formidable musical talent also gave him a platform for addressing the issues close to his heart. At the height of his career, his music often addressed social issues such as poverty, drugs and war. His music was known for having a social conscience.
In the midst of this success, he was in a serious car accident that left him in a coma for several days. Within the year, he was back at his music career although the accident permanently damaged his sense of smell.
During his career, he has been the youngest person to have a number 1 hit, won several Grammy Awards for Album of the Year, and the Academy Award for Best Original Song among other awards. He has learned 9 instruments and is hailed for shaping the sound of pop music in the 70s and 80s.
As his sphere of influence grew, he used his wealth and position to promote causes that were important to him. Most notably, he successfully campaigned for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday to become a national holiday. In addition, he sponsored a home for children with disabilities, became active in Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Charge Against Hunger Program, and the anti-apartheid movement.
In a 2012 interview with The Guardian, he was asked if his disadvantages made him the success he is today. He responded, “Do you know, it’s funny but I never thought of being blind as a disadvantage… I am what I am. I love me! And I don’t mean that egotistically – I love that God has allowed me to take whatever it was that I had and to make something out of it.”
Who is this musician and activist? Stevie Wonder. In the 70s, his musical innovation led the way for a new sound in R&B. His success in music gave him a public platform for speaking up about social issues. How did he achieve all this success? By recognizing that his innate talent didn’t need to be stifled by what people would often consider to be ‘disadvantages.’ Incight applauds everyone who refuses to let limiting beliefs stand in the way of their potential! Thank you, Stevie, for being an inspiration to us all.
Keep an eye out next month for the story of a man who got his start as a zombie in a Thriller reenactment and moved on to fulfill his dream of acting.