Stevie Wonder -- whose birth name is Steveland Hardaway Judkins -- was born several weeks prematurely, which resulted in detached retinas, leaving him permanently blind. By the time he was 11 years old, the young prodigy was a master of piano, drums, bass and harmonica. His influence on jazz, soul and contemporary music has earned him an induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.
Multiple Music Genres
Wonder was famous for his fluid mastery of several genres, which included R&B;, pop, rock 'n' roll, soul and jazz. Though some attribute this mastery to his frequent and often-sought collaborative projects, others cite his vast solo exploration of musical varieties using different instruments and themes and the strict control exercised by his record label in his early years over what music they would produce. His activities encouraged other musicians to likewise branch out of their main genres through collaborative compositions.
Wonder had to fight for control with his producer and label for creative freedom with his work. It wasn't until nearly a decade after being signed that he began to find musical freedom and the ability to co-write and co-produce his own work. His experiences -- finally culminating in leaving Motown in 1971 -- have encouraged other artists to demand more from their labels and producers.
Wonder frequently adopted new musical technology more quickly and more readily than his peers. This was the case with the album format, the moog synthesizer and the e-mu emulator -- an early synthesizer. Each of these technologies later became industry staples, sometimes even in genres in which Wonder wasn't known for producing music, such as house and trance formats.
Philanthropy and Charity
Though not the first musician to use his talents for philanthropic efforts, Wonder devoted much of his efforts to routinely holding philanthropic concerts -- a fact that has inspired many contemporary artists to likewise take up humanitarian and charity causes. Wonder's own efforts were rewarded by recognition from President Ronald Reagan, and the commemoration of Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday.