Catch Stevie Wonder, Ages 12–16, in His Earliest TV Performances

The amaz­ing Ste­vie Won­der turns 64 today, and in hon­or of the singer’s long illus­tri­ous career, we present some of his ear­li­est moments in the spot­light. In 1963, Lit­tle Ste­vie Wonder—as he was then known—had his first num­ber one hit with a song called “Fin­ger­tips.” He was 12 years old. Not only did he top the charts, but he did so with the first ever live record­ing to hit num­ber one, and the first ever sin­gle to simul­ta­ne­ous­ly top the Bill­board Hot 100 and the R&B charts at once. See the young star per­form “Fin­ger­tips” above, fol­low­ing Mar­vin Gaye at the Motown Revue Live, and below one year lat­er on The Ed Sul­li­van Show.

“Fin­ger­tips” came from the album Record­ed Live: The 12 Year Old Genius, which was, you guessed it, record­ed live, at the Regal The­ater in Chica­go. Despite his ten­der years, this was hard­ly Lit­tle Stevie’s first rodeo. At this point, he was vir­tu­al­ly a vet­er­an of the busi­ness, hav­ing signed to Motown at age 11, toured the so-called “chitlin’ cir­cuit” and released two pre­vi­ous albums—The Jazz Soul of Lit­tle Ste­vie and Trib­ute to Uncle Ray—both of which failed to chart.

Already a mul­ti-instru­men­tal­ist, Wonder’s first big sin­gle was not a stir­ring piano bal­lad or rous­ing funk soul anthem; it was more or less an extend­ed har­mon­i­ca solo, punc­tu­at­ed by exu­ber­ant call-and-response shouts to the crowd. But peo­ple loved it, and the musi­cal prodi­gy seemed well on his way to super-star­dom. Just above, see him play anoth­er har­mon­i­ca sin­gle, “Kiss Me Baby,” in 1965 on the British music show Ready Steady Go!

Though his star seemed to be on the rise after “Fin­ger­tips,” Lit­tle Stevie’s career hit a few snags after his big break, and Berry Gordy almost dropped him from the Motown ros­ter when his voice changed. But he was not, as we know, des­tined to be a one-hit-won­der (par­don the pun). Though puber­ty cut short the child prodi­gy act, Won­der sol­diered on, drop­ping the “Lit­tle” and becom­ing a seri­ous vocal­ist. He scored hits in the mid-six­ties with the super-catchy “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” and the beau­ti­ful “A Place in the Sun.” See him do both songs above on the Mike Dou­glass show in 1966. In-between songs, Dou­glass asks the six­teen year-old some pret­ty dopey ques­tions about his blind­ness, the result of a birth defect. Won­der responds with the same good-natured humor and grace we’ve come to expect from him. In these ear­ly appear­ances, you can plain­ly see all the qual­i­ties that have made Ste­vie Won­der so uni­ver­sal­ly beloved. The man’s still got it, as he proved in his Gram­my per­for­mance of “Get Lucky” this year with Daft Punk and Phar­rell. We wish Ste­vie the hap­pi­est of birth­days. If you’re lucky enough to be in Europe this sum­mer, do your­self a favor and catch him on one of his sev­en tour dates. He might even break out the har­mon­i­ca.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

See Ste­vie Won­der Play “Super­sti­tion” and Ban­ter with Grover on Sesame Street in 1973

Mar­vin Gaye’s Clas­sic Vocals on ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’: The A Cap­pel­la Ver­sion

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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