Stevie Wonder is known for his seminal Motown career that began when he was just a kid and is still going on today. Even more impressive is the fact that Stevie has amassed such success despite his handicap, having been born blind. Some fans, believe it or not, aren’t so sure that the talented musician is truly seeing impaired.
Over the years, a conspiracy theory regarding Wonder’s blindness has formed, and it’s been fueled by stories from many celebrities, from Shaquille O’Neal to Boy George. The conspiracy is so widespread that even Stevie himself likes to joke about someday revealing “the truth.”
The Conspiracy Theory
Some fans of the Wonderful Stevie have been wondering whether the musician is actually blind or if it’s really just some elaborate hoax. These conspiracists claim that there are heaps of evidence suggesting that Stevie can, in fact, see and that his blindness is a publicity stunt.
We delved into the supposed “proof” that Stevie can see and concluded that most of the stories have logical explanations, while others really are a bit fishy. Either way, it’s highly doubtful that Stevie has been lying all these years, though he tends to fib here and there, according to his ex-girlfriend.
Some Suspicious Stories
One story that supports the “Stevie Truthers'” theory is recalled by viewers of Wonder’s 2010 group, White House’s, performance. Apparently, Paul McCartney passed by Stevie on stage and knocked a microphone down near the soul singer. Without hesitation, Stevie reached out and caught the falling mic, causing people to doubt his blindness.
Another suspicious fact concerns Michael Jackson. Back in 1996, Stevie was apprehended while taking a photograph of Jackson; people wondered how he knew where to point and shoot. The same goes for Wonder’s love for basketball. Fans can’t figure out why he likes sitting courtside so much.
His Ex’s Claims
Wonder’s self-proclaimed ex, known as Ms. Mbappe, claims he likes “telling a few lies to stand out from the crowd and get attention.” She also allegedly told Enquêteur Africain that everyone “had a gimmick back then. Stevie was the genius in glasses who couldn’t see a thing, [and was] forced to stick with it and live the rest of his life as a pretend blind man.”
She commented on the musician’s love for B-ball and his beautiful picture taking: “He is an amazing photographer. He peers down the lens in viewfinders, composing beautiful photos. He has a great eye.”
Shaq and Boy George Fuel the Rumors
According to Boy George, Stevie Wonder can’t be blind because he put George in a headlock. The pop singer can’t comprehend how Stevie knew where he was standing, but it seems like Boy George forgot about the other senses humans have. NBA superstar Shaq has also chimed in on the theory.
Apparently, Shaq and Stevie live in the same building, and one day Shaq came through the lobby and entered the elevator, followed by Wonder. Before the basketball player identified himself, Stevie said, “What’s up, Shaq?” and pressed the button. Maybe Stevie recognized O’Neal’s smell or walk?
More Stars Weigh In
Another star who’s weighed in on the speculation is ESPN personality Bomani Jones, who thinks it’s odd Stevie guest-starred on Dancing with the Stars, saying, “Is competitive ballroom dancing something that is typically… like, do blind people do that?”
NBA star Darryl Dawkins claims Wonder gave him the nickname Chocolate Thunder, which in his opinion means Stevie can see. Anthony Anderson insists that Stevie can see because the musician beat him at a charity free-throw competition. Furthermore, P. Diddy insists that Wonder once described his outfit, down to every detail.
Stevie’s Pranks and Jokes
Lionel Richie, who is a close friend of Wonder’s, said, “I’ve been spending my whole life with him thinking he can see. I know he can see,” claiming Wonder once drove a car in reverse in his driveway. Stevie often makes fun of the theory and even fuels the rumors a bit.
He drove a car on James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke, causing conspiracists to freak and even pretended to read a result’s card at the Grammys. Wonder once joked in an interview, saying, “This year, I will reveal the truth.”
How Stevie Lost His Sight
Although there is a lot of evidence proving that Stevie can see, some of the stories are a little reductive towards the visually impaired. It’s common knowledge that with the loss of one sense, other senses become heightened, which could easily explain Stevie’s wonderful instincts.
Stevland Hardaway Judkins, aka Stevie Wonder, came into the world in Saginaw, Michigan, on May 13th, 1950. He was born six weeks premature and had retinopathy of prematurity. Stevie became fully blind after he received too much oxygen while in his incubator.
Poverty and Abuse
Wonder’s father, Calvin Judkins, was thirty years older than his mother, Lula Mae Hardaway. Stevie was the second son of his father and the third of his mother. Lula suffered greatly at the hands of Calvin, who was an alcoholic, abused her, and forced her into prostitution to bring home money for their family.
Not only that, but Lula had to steal “coal to keep her family warm.” When Stevie was four, Lula divorced her terrorizer, took her three kids to Detroit, Michigan, and changed Stevie’s last name to Morris.
Don’t You Worry About A Thing
From a young age, little Stevie taught himself to play music. He sounded out melodies on the piano, drums, and harmonica, all before the age of ten. Stevie also sang in the Whitestone Baptist Church choir.
Lula was distressed at her son’s blindness and feared it was a punishment from God for her sins, leading her to take Stevie to faith healers hoping for a cure. The young Stevie was upset that Lula would cry all the time and told her, “Don’t worry about me being blind because I’m happy.”
Stevie and John
During his very musical childhood, Stevie formed a musical duo with his friend John. The two would perform on street corners for money and were even hired to play at the occasional party or dance. The talented youngster attended Fitzgerald Elementary School in Detroit.
In 1961, when he was only eleven years old, Stevie’s musical prowess caught the ear of Ronnie White from the group, The Miracles. Stevie sang his song, “Lonely Boy,” to the Motown artist, who saw great promise in Stevie and resolved to get him an audition.
Signed At Age Eleven
Ronnie White took the eleven-year-old Stevie Morris for an audition with Berry Gordy III, the founder of Motown Records. Berry didn’t think twice and signed Stevie to a record deal with Motown’s Tamla label right away. Because of Stevie’s young age, the contract was only for five years.
Furthermore, the youngster would receive a small weekly stipend while all the royalties he earned were held in a trust until he reached age twenty-one. Stevie was paired with producer and songwriter Clarence Paul, who renamed the boy “Little Stevie Wonder.”
Little Stevie Wonder
Under the tutelage of Clarence Paul, Little Stevie Wonder recorded two albums during his first year in the business. The first one they recorded was Tribute to Uncle Ray, which was mostly a cover album of Ray Charles’ songs.
The second album they recorded was The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie, a primarily instrumental compilation of songs arranged by Paul. A couple of the songs, including Wondering, were co-written by eleven-year-old Stevie. Motown released Stevie’s two debut albums in the opposite order that they were recorded.
Old People Call It the Blues
But before his first albums were released, Wonder recorded his debut single, I Call It Pretty Music, But the Old People Call It the Blues, written by Gordy and released in the summer of 1962.
The song was moderately successful and reached 101 on the Billboard charts in August. Unfortunately, his next few singles and his first two albums weren’t very popular upon their release. Luckily, the label didn’t give up on the young musical prodigy and had him join the Motortown Revue, a group of touring Black artists.
A Motown Prodigy
With the Motortown Revue, twelve-year-old Stevie toured across America, performing at venues who accepted Black artists- a route called the “Chitlin’ Circuit.” In 1963 one of his performances in Chicago was recorded and released as a live album called Recorded Live: The 12-Year-Old Genius.
One song from the record, Fingertips, came out as a single and became Wonder’s first big hit. The song itself was a live recording of the encore, in which Stevie sounds full of confidence and excitement to be performing at the Regal Theater in Chicago.
The Youngest Musician to Top the Charts
Fingertips quickly rose to the top of the charts, becoming a Billboard Hot 100 No.1 hit. Stevie was just thirteen years old, making him the youngest musician ever to top the Billboard charts. The single also hit No.1 on the R&B charts, making it the first song to top both charts simultaneously.
But Stevie’s victory was short-lived. His following few songs didn’t live up to the success of Fingertips. As he reached puberty, his voice began to change, and Motown wondered if they should drop Wonder from the label.
Muscle Beach Party
Meanwhile, in 1964, thirteen-year-old Stevie dabbled in film, appearing in two beach party movies as himself and playing musical numbers. The first film was called Muscle Beach Party and starred teenage icons Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.
The second flick, Bikini Beach, was a sequel of the first and had the same cast. Neither film was incredibly successful, and Stevie began to lose hope, fearing that his career was over. Luckily, Motown songwriter Sylvia Moy convinced the label’s executives to keep Stevie on and give him another chance.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours
Moy took Stevie under her wing and worked with him to record the single, Uptight (Everything’s Alright). He soon became just Stevie Wonder, dropping the Little from his stage name. Wonder’s career picked back up, and he released several hits throughout the 1960s, including Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours, which was his first self-produced song.
Stevie continued working with his mentors Sylvia Moy and Clarence Paul and also began writing songs himself, many of which Henry Cosby co-wrote. Furthermore, Wonder composed songs for others, like Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.
The Wright Woman
In 1968, Stevie met Syreeta Wright, a fellow Motown employee, who sang backup vocals for the Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas. The two musicians started dating a year later, and with the encouragement of Wonder, Wright began working as a songwriter.
The couple co-wrote The Spinners 1969 single, It’s a Shame, which was a modest success, and collaborated on Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours, writing it together. Syreeta also sang backup vocals for the song. The signed and sealed lovebirds were wed on September 14th, 1970.
Wright and Wonder
Wonder and Wright co-wrote and arranged Stevie’s following few songs. The single, If You Really Love Me, hit number 8 on the Billboard hot 100 and features Syreeta on backup vocals again. In 1971, Stevie’s contract with Motown expired, and the couple moved to New York City.
In New York, Stevie Wonder worked on two albums, with the help of Wright, which he released independently. However, in 1972, Motown Records promised Wonder bigger and better things, so the 22-year-old former prodigy, and his wife, returned to the label.
Negotiating A New Contract
In his new contract with Motown, Wonder negotiated a way better royalty rate and complete creative control: a much more suitable arrangement for the artist who had reached adulthood. That year, he and Syreeta co-wrote and recorded Stevie’s album Music of My Mind.
The album was less a collection of songs and more an interconnected artistic work that flowed both musically and thematically. The album’s message contained political and social statements about Civil Rights and racism, alongside classic R&B themes of love, romance, religion, and mysticism.
Music of My Mind
It was in Music of My Mind that Stevie first began experimenting with electronic, synthesized sounds and overdubbing, a style for which he would later become known. He played most of the music on the album himself, although Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil of Tonto’s Expanding Head Band also contributed instrumentals.
In the summer of that year, Wonder toured with the Rolling Stones as their opening act before releasing his biggest album yet, Talking Book, in October 1972. Talking Book is widely considered the genius musician’s official breakthrough album.
Wonder’s Talking Book
Talking Book featured two number one hits- Superstition and You Are the Sunshine of My Life. The two songs also garnered three Grammys, and Stevie appeared in an episode of Sesame Street playing a live version of Superstition.
Although they had collaborated on Talking Book, Stevie and Syreeta’s marriage wasn’t going as well as their musical careers. So, in the summer of ’72, the two divorced after 18 months of married life. Despite ending their romantic relationship, Wright and Wonder remained close friends and continued to collaborate artistically.
His Renewed Success
Continuing with his renewed success, Stevie released the album Innervisions in 1973. Innervisions was a concept album that was both introspective and politically critical. The album won the Grammy for Album of the Year, as well as two other Grammys.
The songs Living for the City and Higher Ground were full of social commentary about issues prevalent in America and reached No. 1 on the R&B charts. While the more optimistic single, Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing, peaked at No. 2. Stevie was on a roll. Until tragedy struck…
The Car Accident
On the 6th of August 1973, while touring in North Carolina, Stevie got in a car accident. The car he was riding in collided with the back of a truck. Wonder’s injuries were severe, and he remained in a coma for four days. Stevie awoke to the realization that he had partially lost his sense of smell and temporarily lost his sense of taste.
Wonder’s doctor forbade the artist from performing. But Stevie couldn’t help going back to work and started working on his next album, Fulfillingness, about the accident.
Stevie’s Unstoppable Philanthropy
In November 1973, he disobeyed the doc’s orders and performed at the homecoming benefit for Shaw University. As a member of the college’s board, Stevie knew they were facing financial troubles and therefore helped organize the concert, which raised $10,000 for the scholarship fund.
Fulfillingness was released in 1974 and delved into Wonder’s near-death experience, with spiritual and religious symbolism. He didn’t disappoint fans, however, and featured some of his trademark love songs too. The politically-charged single, You Haven’t Done Nothin, featuring the Jackson 5, peaked at No. 1.
Songs in the Key of Life
Stevie Wonder’s next album, Songs in the Key of Life, was released in 1976 and, despite its lyrical complexity and unique style, became a booming success. Wonder won the Grammy for Album of the Year for three consecutive albums- Innervisions, Fulfillingness, and Key of Life.
Key of Life was released two years after Fulfillingness, and in the gap year between Wonder’s albums, Paul Simon won the Grammy for Still Crazy After All These Years. In his acceptance speech, Simon said, “I’d like to thank Stevie Wonder, who didn’t make an album this year.”
Isn’t Baby Aisha Lovely?
Key of Life debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, with two of its singles, I Wish and Sir Duke, peaking at No. 1 on both the pop and R&B charts. Wonder’s song, Isn’t She Lovely? is about his first daughter, Aisha.
Aisha was born on February 2nd, 1975, to Yolanda Simmons. After Aisha’s birth, Stevie gushed, “she was the one thing that I needed in my life and in my music for a long time.” Wonder must have meant it, considering he went on to have nine kids.
Following in His Footsteps
Stevie met Yolanda Simmons when she applied for a job at his publishing company, and they struck up a romance. The two never married but had another child together before parting ways. Their second baby was a boy named Kieta, born in 1977.
Both Keita and Aisha Morris continued in their father’s footsteps into the music industry. While Aisha is known for singing and performing with Stevie, Keita took a different path and became a DJ called Jersey Wonder. Stevie’s other children would be with other women.
Nine Children from Five Women
Altogether, Wonder has nine kids from five different women. His third child, a son named Mumtaz, was born to Melody McCulley in 1983. Like his older half-siblings, Mumtaz became a musician. He has established a successful R&B career, known for his songs The Gift and The Curse.
Wonder’s 4th and 5th children, Sophia and Kwame, were born to an undisclosed girlfriend of Stevie’s. Sophia keeps out of the spotlight, while Kwame is known for his work as a model. In 2001, Stevie married his second wife, fashion designer Kai Millard.
His Kids Perform with Him
Wonder and Millard have two children together. Kailand, the elder, is known for performing on stage with his father and Aisha, playing the drums. He, like Kwame, is involved in the fashion world and has modeled for Dior and other companies.
Kai and Wonder’s second child together, Mandala, was born on Stevie’s 55th birthday in May 2005. Mandala loves the spotlight and even competed in Dancing with the Stars: Juniors. He also appeared in the 2018 movie A Star Is Born. When Mandala was four, Kai and Stevie divorced.
Tomeeka Robyn Bracy
After his split from Kai, Stevie moved on quickly, beginning a relationship with his current wife, Tomeeka Robyn Bracy. Tomeeka was a teacher before marrying Wonder and had two children from her previous marriage, one of whom tragically passed away as a baby.
Tomeeka had two more children with Stevie- Zaiah and Nia Morris, the latter born in 2014. In 2017, Stevie and Tomeeka tied the knot. Aside from their ten respective children and Stevies’ four other baby mama’s, their wedding was attended by John Legend, Pharrell Williams, and Usher.
Hotter Than July
After Wonder’s three-time Grammy-winning streak, he remained the famous name he is today and continued to release new music throughout the ’80s, ’90s’ and 2000s’. Aside from his hit 1980 album, Hotter Than July, Wonder released two other albums that decade.
The musician also wrote the soundtrack for The Woman in Red in 1984. After topping the charts, the lead single, I Just Called to Say I Love You, won the Oscar for best song in 1985. Stevie also continued to write songs for fellow artists.
From Aretha Franklin to Michael Jackson
One famous song that Stevie Wonder wrote for another friend and fellow musician is I Can’t Help It by Michael Jackson. Wonder co-wrote the single with Susaye Greene of The Supremes, intending to record it himself. However, when Michael asked to use it, he couldn’t refuse.
Stevie also wrote the Aretha Franklin song, Until You Come Back to Me. He first penned in at age thirteen, but after his unsuccessful recording, Aretha made it into a timeless classic. Likewise, Wonder wrote the Minnie Riperton song, Perfect Angel.
His Songwriting for Others
Among the other hits that Stevie has penned and arranged for others are Rufus and Chaka Khan’s Tell Me Something Good and Jermaine Jackson’s Let’s Get Serious. Stevie originally wrote Superstition for Jeff Beck, but the guitarist took too much recording the song, and in the end, Stevie’s version was released first, to Jeff’s dismay.
Throughout his career, Wonder has recorded songs with many other artists, including Paul McCartney, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Snoop Dogg, John Denver, Celine Dion, and Andrea Bocelli.
His Famous Harmonica
The sound of Wonder’s signature harmonica playing can be heard in many songs, including I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues by Elton John, Brand New Day by Sting, I Feel for You by Chaka Khan, and later works by artists such as Donny Osmond, Mark Ronson, and Melissa Manchester.
Stevie shared that while he is on tour, he goes through approximately three harmonicas a week. Fans have also noticed that when the musical genius plays the keyboards, he doesn’t use his right thumb.
Activism Against Apartheid
Aside from being an influential musician, Stevie wonder was also an activist. In 1985, Wonder protested the apartheid regime in South Africa by arriving at the country’s embassy in Washington D.C. wearing a sign that read “Free South Africa.”
He was later voluntarily arrested with forty-seven other protestors and shared that being taken into custody was an “expression of love to all the people of South Africa who are against the barbaric policies of apartheid.” Furthermore, Wonder dedicated “I Just Called to Say I Love You” to Nelson Mandela.
Banned in South Africa
After his vocal protest of the apartheid, South Africa banned Stevie’s music. But the artist was unfazed and continued to fight for what was right. He even performed in front of the UN on his 35th birthday, singing I Just Called to Say I Love You and adding Mandela’s name to the lyrics.
When Stevie’s seventh kid was born, Mandela called Stevie and asked if he could name the musician’s son. According to Stevie’s then-wife, “[Nelson] gave us two names, one of which we couldn’t pronounce. So, we chose Mandla.”
Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Another cause which Stevie Wonder fought for was his belief that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday should be established as an American national holiday. In truth, Wonder’s song Happy Birthday is actually about MLK and criticizes those who protested making his birthday a holiday.
The famous song came out in 1979. In 1982, Wonder and King’s widow Coretta Scott King started a petition to Congress to support their goal. Together, they garnered six million signatures, and in 1983 the president was finally swayed and passed the bill.
Co-Inventing an Instrument
Stevie is also partially responsible for inventing a musical instrument. Stevie heard about a device created by Ray Kurzweil in 1976 that could read text aloud to the visually impaired. Wonder became the first person to buy the invention and then became friends with the inventor.
Stevie asked Kurzweil to invent a device that would mimic the sounds of musical instruments without using recordings. Together, they created the Kurzweil 250, with Wonder as musical adviser and Kurzweil as tech-genius. The 250 became the first convincing computerized instrument in the world.
Tricked By His Lawyer
Despite his popularity, Stevie isn’t loved by everyone. In 2011, Stevie discovered that his attorney of many years, Johanan Vigoda, had tricked him into signing a contract that said Wonder would have to continue paying him royalties even after Vigoda’s death.
Wonder claimed that the lawyer had read him the contract aloud and failed to mention this fact. Stevie stopped paying, so the lawyer’s heirs entered into a legal battle with him, insistent that they deserved the money. The case was settled out of court.
His Reputation as a Lady’s Man
Part of Wonder’s reputation as such a lady’s man, with nine kids from five different women, sometimes makes his exes angry. Although Stevie has a pretty good relationship with most of his ex-girlfriends, one of them- Angela McAfee, sued him in 2001 for $30 million.
Angela insisted that Stevie had agreed to pay her and violated his promise and also claimed that she deserved compensation from the musician for giving her herpes. Stevie countersued, claiming that she had stolen from him, and the suit was settled out of court.
He’s Flown a Plane
Stevie practices meditation and veganism and travels with a personal chef who caters to his vegan needs wherever he may be. The musician has traveled the world, and despite his blindness, knows how to get around on his own.
Wonder admitted to Rolling Stone that he’s even flown a plane twice. He shared, “[It was] a Cessna or something, from Chicago to New York. Scared the hell out of everybody.” The second time was in Ghana, and based on the pilot’s instructions, Stevie steered and landed a small plane.
He Outlived Them All
Stevie once performed three venues in one night, two in Washington DC, before rushing to Baltimore to replace Marvin Gaye, who wasn’t feeling well. Another time, Wonder walked into the deep end of a pool on his way to the stage at a LA venue.
Despite only releasing one new album in the 2000s, called A Time to Love from 2005, Stevie is still at it and has outlived all his contemporaries. He’s performed at the funerals of many of his friends, including Michael Jackson, Etta James, and Whitney Houston.
Wonder’s Wonderful Legacy
From his start as a Motown prodigy till today, Stevie Wonder has established himself as one of the most influential musicians of his time. His one-man-band abilities and seminal recording techniques paved the way for contemporary R&B and electronic music.
Stevie beat the competition out of 25 Grammys, peaked at No.1 on the Billboard charts ten times, and No. 1 on the R&B charts twenty times. Rolling Stone named Wonder the ninth greatest singer of all time, and there is no doubt that his wonderful legacy will live on forever.