Stevie Wonder 1950 – present

Much more than a blind Black singer songwriter

Stevie Wonder has long supported the civil rights movement in the US and the world with his music. In addition to being an award winning musical innovator, he is a humanitarian who has used his music to support a number of social causes and political beliefs. Because of his disabilities he is blind Stevie was limited to in what he could do, but because of his enormous talent and popularity he could not be ignored.

He is probably best remembered for his campaign to make Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a national holiday, Wonder released Happy Birthday (1980), a song celebrating Dr. King. The song became a hit and a rallying cry for the King Holiday.

On Monday, January 20, 1986, in cities and towns across the country people celebrated the first official Martin Luther King Day, the only federal holiday commemorating an African-American. Wonder’s song echoed as the anthem of the holiday.

But Stevie Wonder Civil Rights go much deeper than this single event.

The year prior to that in 1985 Stevie had dedicated his song ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ to Nelson Mandela. Wonder also joined a number of musicians and entertainers, including Harry Belafonte, Quincy Jones, Lionel Ritchie, and Michael Jackson to produce the song We are the World (1985) to raise funds for humanitarian aid in Africa. He teamed with Gladys Knight and Dionne Warwick, and Elton John (1988) to produce That’s What Friends Are For to support AIDS charities.

Blind from infancy, Steveland Hardaway Judkins moved with his family to Detroit Michigan when he was four years old. When his mother later remarried, he changed his name to Steveland Morris. Young Steveland sang in his church’s choir, and by the time he was nine years old, he had mastered piano, drums and harmonica. Singer Ray Charles became his role model. The child prodigy was discovered in 1961 while performing for friends.

Music mogul Berry Gordy immediately signed him on the Motown label and changed his name to “Little Stevie Wonder.” His first album, A Tribute to Uncle Ray (1962) was released when Wonder was just twelve years old.

By the early 1970s, thought provoking Stevie Wonder albums like Talking Book (1972) Innervisions (1973) and Songs in the Key of Life (1976) propelled the musical genius to the pinnacle of his career, a track from this Pastime Paradise is the basis of Coolio’s ‘Gangsta Paradise with all the strong political despair it embodied and became an anthem for, and was featured in the film Dangerous Minds, starring Michel Pfeiffer.

His 1985 duet with former Beatle Paul McCarthy, “Ebony and Ivory,” became another social statement calling for racial harmony. Stevie Wonder was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. By 2006, Wonder had been awarded twenty-two Grammy awards and eighteen American Music awards.

In 2016, Stevie Wonder sang at the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture for then-President Barack Obama, the first black US president, and his predecessor George W. Bush, as well as thousands of Americans in Washington D.C. In 2014, Wonder was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.

That same year Steve Wonder gave a moving speech to the United Nations. In it, he recalled Nelson Mandela’s struggle for democracy, human rights and social justice. Mandela, the former South African president, was “one of the most fantastic, caring and loving people who ever moved on Mother Earth,” Wonder enthused.

Wonder expressed how much Mandela meant to him by naming one of his sons “Mandla” (which means “strength”). In 1985, when the South African activist and politician was still in prison, Wonder received an Oscar for the song “I Just Called To say I Love You,” which as we mentioned above he dedicated to Mandela. The apartheid regime reacted by banning Wonder’s music, he continued to campaign for Mandela’s release.

In 2017, Wonder sang with his son Kwarme Morris in New York City’s Central Park. Like all bands performing at the Global Citizen Festival, they had an agenda: to remind political decision-makers in the USA and around the world of their responsibility to end global poverty, tackle climate change and eliminate inequality by 2030.

Stevie Wonder has not remained silent during the current world crisis. Together with Lady Gaga, Billie Eilish and other stars, he took part in One World Together At Home streaming event in April. Organised by Global Citizen, World Health Organization and the United Nations, the goal was to raise funds for the COVID-19 Solidarity Response fund of the WHO.

International Civil Rights Walk of Fame: Stevie Wonder

Black Man by Stevie Wonder

Verse 1
First man to die
For the flag we now hold high [Crispus Attucks]
Was a black man
The ground were we stand
With the flag held in our hand
Was first the red man’s
Guide of a ship
On the first Columbus trip [Pedro Alonzo Nino]
Was a brown man
The railroads for trains
Came on tracking that was laid
By the yellow man

Chorus
We pledge allegiance
All our lives
To the magic colors
Red, blue and white
But we all must be given
The liberty that we defend
For with justice not for all men
History will repeat again
It’s time we learned
This world was made for all men

Verse 2
Heart surgery
Was first done successfully
By a black man [Dr Daniel Hale Williams]
Friendly man who died
But helped the pilgrims to survive [Squanto]
Was a red man
Farm workers rights
Were lifted to new heights [César Chávez]
By a brown man
Incandescent light
Was invented to give sight [Thomas Edison]
By the white man

Chorus
We pledge allegiance
All our lives
To the magic colors
Red, blue and white
But we all must be given
The liberty that we defend
For with justice not for all men
History will repeat again
It’s time we learned
This world was made for all men

Hear me out

Now I know the birthday of a nation
Is a time when a country celebrates
But as your hand touches your heart
Remember we all played a part in America
To help that banner wave

Verse 3
First clock to be made
In America was created
By a black man [Benjamin Banneker]
Scout who used no chart
Helped lead Lewis and Clark
Was a red woman [Sacagawea]
Use of martial arts
In our country got its start
By a yellow man [Bruce Lee]
And the leader with a pen
Signed his name to free all men
Was a white man [Abraham Lincoln]

Chorus
We pledge allegiance
All our lives
To the magic colors
Red, blue and white
But we all must be given
The liberty that we defend
For with justice not for all men
History will repeat again
It’s time we learned
This world was made for all men

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