On this day in music history: May 21, 1977 - “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 3 weeks, also topping the R&B singles chart for 1 week on May 28th. Written and produced by Stevie Wonder, it is fifth pop and thirteenth R&B chart topper for the 22 time Grammy award winning singer, songwriter and musician. The song is written in tribute to legendary composer, arranger, and bandleader Duke Ellington. Having been an influence on Wonder as a musician, he feels compelled to acknowledge Ellington who had passed away in May of 1974 at the age of 75. Stevie will also namecheck many other important jazz and swing music pioneers in the song including Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald. The track features Wonder (keyboards) with members of his band Wonderlove including Nathan Watts (bass), Michael Sembello and Ben Bridges (lead and rhythm guitars), Hank Redd (alto sax), Trevor Laurence (tenor sax), Raymond Maldonado and Steve Madaio (trumpets), and Raymond Pounds (drums). Issued as the second single from the landmark “Songs In The Key of Life” album, “Sir Duke” will follow its predecessor “I Wish” to the top of the pop and R&B singles charts. Entering the Hot 100 at #74 on April 2, 1977, it will climb to the top of the chart seven weeks later.
On this day in music history: May 21, 1963 - “Recorded Live: The 12-Year Old Genius”, the first live album by (Little) Stevie Wonder is released. Produced by Berry Gordy, it is recorded at the Regal Theater in Chicago, IL in June of 1962. Following the less than enthusiatic response to the young singer and musicians’ first two studio albums, Motown Records founder Berry Gordy decides to capture Wonder in all of his excitement, live on stage. One of the highlights of the performance is the song “Fingertips”. The original studio version is featured on his debut album “The Jazz Soul Of Little Stevie” also released in 1962. The live version, running at over six and a half minutes, it will be split into two parts for single release, when it is issued in tandem with the album. DJ’s will prefer Part II of the single, featuring the electrifying call and response between Stevie and the audience along with his virtuoso harmonica playing. “Fingertips Pt. II” will hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 3 weeks and 6 weeks on the R&B chart. The album is titled “The 12-Year Old Genius”, though ironically it is released eight days after Wonder turns 13 years old. The “Genius” album will hit #1 on the Top 200 on August 24th, making Wonder the youngest recording artist in history to have a #1 album and single.
On this day in music history: May 19, 1973 - “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” by Stevie Wonder hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week, topping the Adult Contemporary chart for 2 weeks on April 28th, also peaking at #3 on the R&B singles chart on May 5th. Written and produced by Stevie Wonder, it is the third pop chart topper for the Motown superstar. Issued as the follow up to the chart topping “Superstition”, it is the second single from the album “Talking Book”. The track features singers Jim Gilstrap and Gloria Barley singing the songs’ first chorus before Stevie sings the first verse. The original LP and hit single mixes of the song will differ, as the single version will add a horn section that was not present on the album version. Entering the Hot 100 at #76 on March 17, 1973, it will reach top of the chart nine weeks later. The song will quickly become a pop standard, being covered by numerous artists over the years including Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Tom Jones, and Johnny Mathis to name a few. “Sunshine” will also win Stevie a Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male, one of four Grammy Awards he’ll pick up in 1974. When accepting his award for the single, Wonder will thank the audience by saying “I would like to thank all of you for making this night the sunshine of my life!” Stevie Wonder’s version of “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” will be inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2002.
Awesome giant billboard advertising Stevie Wonder’s classic album “Talking Book” on Sunset Blvd in West Hollywood, CA, circa 1973.
On this day in music history: May 15, 1982 - “Ebony And Ivory” by Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder hits #1 on the Hot 100 for 7 weeks, topping the Adult Contemporary chart for 5 weeks on the same date, and peaking at #8 on the R&B singles chart on May 8th. Written by Paul McCartney, it is the eighth solo chart topper for McCartney and the seventh for Wonder. Comedian Spike Milligan will provide McCartney with the initial inspiration to write the song when he hears him say, “black notes, white notes, and you need to play the two to make harmony, folks!”. Taking the quote to heart, McCartney will write the song as a positive message of unity among all people. The first version of the song will be a solo demo version recorded by Paul alone in 1980. Feeling that it will work better as a duet, he will immediately think of Stevie Wonder. A short time later, Stevie will run into Paul’s father in law Lee Eastman who will tell Stevie about the song Paul has written. Wonder will ask that a copy of the demo be forwarded to him. He’ll agree to do the song, and the two superstar musicians will meet in the studio in late February of 1981. Recording at AIR Studios on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, the pair will record the basic tracks and vocals within a few days (February 26 - March 1, 1981) along with a second duet titled “What’s That You’re Doing?”. Released on March 29, 1982 as the first single from Paul McCartney’s “Tug Of War” album, the single is an immediate smash. The success of the song will be further bolstered by a video (directed by longtime collaborator Keith McMillan) that features the pair playing and singing together, though due to scheduling conflicts, McCartney will film his parts in London, while Wonder films his in Los Angeles, being brought seamlessly together through the then groundbreaking chroma-key video editing. Entering the Hot 100 at #29 on April 10, 1982, it will rocket to the top of the chart five weeks later. The single will receive three Grammy nominations including Record and Song Of The Year. The record will mark the first time that any member of The Beatles will appear on the Billboard R&B singles chart. Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder will perform the song together in 2011 at the White House when McCartney receives the Gershwin Prize for his lifetime contributions to popular music from President Barack Obama. “Ebony And Ivory” will be certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
Born on this day: May 13, 1950 - Singer,songwriter, producer, and musician Stevie Wonder (born Stevland Hardaway Judkins in Saginaw, MI). Happy 63rd Birthday, Stevie!!! We ♥ you!!!
On this day in music history: May 4, 1966 - “Up-Tight”, the fifth album by Stevie Wonder is released. Produced by Clarence Paul, William “Mickey” Stevenson, Henry Cosby, Brian Holland & Lamont Dozier, it is recorded at Motown Studio A in Detroit, MI from Mid 1962 - Late 1965, and Early 1966. The album will feature a mixture of earlier tracks previously released as singles only along with newer material. It also features some of the first material to be co-written by Stevie Wonder including “Nothing’s Too Good For My Baby”, “Ain’t That Asking For Trouble”, and the title track. It will spin off three singles including a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind” (#1 R&B, #9 Pop) and the title track (#1 R&B, #3 Pop). “Up-Tight” will peak at #2 on the Billboard R&B album chart and #33 on the Top 200.
On this day in music history: April 12, 1971 - “Where I’m Coming From”, the 13th album by Stevie Wonder is released. Produced by Stevie Wonder, it is recorded at Motown Studio A and Golden World (Motown Studio B) in Detroit, MI from July 1970 - February 1971. The album marks a major turning point in Wonder’s career, as it is the first release to be produced solely by him (and the last release under his original contract with Motown), with all of the songs written him and his then wife Syreeta Wright. Musically it will differ from anything previously released by Motown, with Wonder wanting to make a clean break from the label’s trademark sound. The lyrics of many songs will also be more personal and socially conscious than what Wonder has written in the past, which will be a constant theme thoughout his best known work in the 70’s and beyond. It will spin off two singles including “If You Really Love Me” (#4 R&B, #8 Pop) and “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer” (#78 Pop). The original LP pressing of the album feature the artist’s surname in large die cut letters on the front that can be punched out. Subsequent repressings come without the die cutting on the cover. “Where I’m Coming From” will peak at #10 on the Billboard R&B album chart and #62 on the Top 200.
On this day in music history: March 3, 1972 - “Music of My Mind”, the 14th studio album by Stevie Wonder is released. Produced by Stevie Wonder, Bob Margouleff, and Malcolm Cecil, it is recorded Media Sound Studios, Electric Lady Studios in New York City, and Crystal Industries in Los Angeles, CA from Mid 1971 - Early 1972. After recording for Motown since the age of 12, Stevie Wonder’s contract with the label expires when he turns 21 years old on May 13, 1971. In spite of millions in record sales and earnings generated, he will find that there is only $1 million held in trust for him. Instead of renewing his contract with Motown, he’ll move to New York and begin working with Bob Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil of Tonto’s Expanding Head Band who will assist him in taking his music to the next level. Experimenting with synthesizers, Wonder will block book studio time and record for several months before re-emerging with a new sound and career direction. Having fielded several offers from rival record companies, he will re-sign with Motown Records, but strictly on his own terms. He will negotiate a deal that gives him complete artistic control, his own music publishing company, and one of the highest royalty rates in the music business. Released as the first album under his new deal, “Music” will be a major turning point for Stevie Wonder, beginning an era that will produce some of his most critically acclaimed and commercially successful work. Spinning off two singles including “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)” (#13 R&B, #33 Pop), and “Keep On Running” (#36 R&B, #90 Pop). “Music Of My Mind” will peak at #6 on the Billboard R&B album chart and #21 on the Top 200.
On this day in music history: February 20, 1982 - “That Girl” by Stevie Wonder hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 9 weeks, also peaking at #4 on the Hot 100 on March 20th. Written and produced by Stevie Wonder, it is the fourteen R&B chart topper for the Motown superstar. “That Girl” will be one of four new songs he records for the then forthcoming 2 LP greatest hits compilation “Original Musiquarium I”. Then Motown president Jay Lasker will propose the idea of releasing a greatest hits album of his material from 1972 - 1980, offering $2 million to allow the label to release such an album. Wonder will agree, but only if the project is expanded to a two LP set and that the dollar amount is increased to $3 million, and that it include some new material. Lasker will agree, with Stevie promising to have the new songs completed and the master reels for the album delivered by a certain date. The first new track, “That Girl” is delivered to the label in November, with the single being released in early December 1981 to an enthusiastic response. “Original Musiquarium I” will be set for a January 1982 release. However in typical fashion, Wonder will miss the deadline by a mile, spending another four months recording the other tracks (“Do I Do”, “Ribbon In The Sky”, and “Front Line”), and will not deliver the master tapes to Motown until April.