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.
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.
I see that Stevie Wonder have a beautiful consciousness even when he was very young. Amazing what a beautiful mind can do. A beautiful mind, just that simple.