Where I’m Coming From: The Influence Of Stevie Wonder Today


It seems to be a common experience for many of us that our first memories of Stevie Wonder are early ones. That is to say, his contribution to music has been a natural part of the soundtracks to our lives for as long as we can remember – whether it was seeing him perform on Sesame Street, hearing “Do I Do” on the radio or the continuous regeneration as R&B artists and aspiring American Idol singers alike take on “Isn’t She Lovely”, “Knocks Me Off my Feet” and “Overjoyed”.

One of the most sampled artist ever, everyone from MJ, Donny Hathaway and Chaka Khan to Busta Rhymes, G-Unit and Joe, Beyonce, John Legend and Donell Jones have incorporated Stevie’s songs and choruses on their own hit albums, or gladly shared a stage with him. Coolio enjoyed the global success of “Gangsta’s Paradise” using Stevie’s blueprint [in “Pastime Paradise”], as did Mary J Blige and George Michael with “As” and Will Smith with “Wild Wild West” [Stevie – “I Wish”].

His impact on continuous generations of modern musicians – through clear cut cover versions and more subtle influence detectable in the songwriting, phrasing and vocal delivery of others – will continue… forever? It certainly seems that way. I asked a handful of some of the most inspiring artists with soul succeeding at their craft today about the influence Stevie Wonder has had on them.

Read on for a sample of Stevie’s impact on today’s Soul Culture.

R&B lioness Teedra Moses discovered Stevie listening to Hotter Than July; “Every household in my family wore that album out!” she recalls. “Stevie Wonder is one of the most influential artist to me in my music and my life. He is creative, profoundly lyrical, socially aware, unique, self contained…

“He is the ultimate artist we all should aspire to be.”

Favourite song: ‘Girl Blue’ – “I use to think he wrote that for me!”

Uniquely voiced singer-songwriter [and Floetry founder] Marsha Ambrosius recalls, “My Mother played Stevie most of the time,” and has been hooked since she can remember – to the point of performing “These Three Words” at the Barbican in London for a Spike Lee tribute to music in film after her grandmother passed away.

“Stevie opened me up lyrically and melodically.  The marriage between the two define the timeless work he has contributed to a world full of influenced Stevie heads like myself.”

Stevie Highlight: “Where Were You When I Needed U (Superwoman)”

[audio:http://soulculture.com/Superwoman.mp3]

Another ‘Superwoman’ fan is UK emcee and musician TY; “It’s two songs in one and is Brilliant!” ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ also stands out as an early memory for the UK Hip Hop legend. “I think Stevie Wonder has had a tremendous effect on both me and [long time collaborator] Drew as producers,” he comments. “We love what he did with synths…

“I would say Stevie Wonder is the reason we love synths so much!”

Independent soul star Jesse Boykins III was first introduced to Stevie when he heard ‘Ribbon In The Sky’ on the radio, aged 10. “I’d never heard anything like it,” he smiles. “So I had to hear more; I just asked around until someone gave me more of his music.”

“Stevie Wonder has mastered the art of lyrics, songwriting, production & arrangements. He also taught me the importance of a conceptual album; all of his albums flow like a movie.”

Favorite Stevie song of all time: “Visions”

Seattle-based soul singer Choklate has also been most influenced by Stevie, “More than anything the way in which he wasn’t afraid of progressions and drastic key changes.”

She explains, “I always admired the complexities of his compositions. We are in a world where simplicity now rules the musical scene and I love Stevie’s brave approach to chord progressions and his fearlessness with regard to lyrics that challenge one to really listen to hear the words…”

Favourite: ‘Knocks Me Off My Feet’ – “’cause it’s just beautiful. Just beautiful.”

It wasn’t even Stevie Wonder’s music that first caught New York based singer Peter Hadar‘s eye; it was his record covers. “One of the deacons of our church, who was also our DJ, would have Stevie’s albums out and I would sneak a look through them. I would see all of these Stevie Wonder albums that I know would never ever get played in church, which meant that I would not get to hear them. Definitely a situation of purgatory; I would always hear so much about him, never really got the chance to get into his music.”

“I wrote a song that’s on my first album (Memories of the Heart) called “Please” [and] I would say it’s definitely influenced by Stevie. In addition to that, about three years ago, a good musician friend of mind was working with Stevie. My friend called me like three o’clock in the morning telling me he played it for him and he loved it! Barely could finish the session I was in. FLOORED!”

Favourite songs: “Secret Life of Plants” and “Super Woman (Where were you when I needed you)”

Atlanta-based singer, songwriter and musician PJ Morton names Songs In The Key Of Life as his favourite Stevie album, “because my favorite song ‘Summersoft’ is on there..” He adds, “Stevie was the first to really make me pay attention to lyrics and delivery.. He’s had a MAJOR impact on my music.. Before I understood who I was I just followed Stevie..”

Critically acclaimed indie soul singer Yahzarah was introduced to Stevie was through her mother. “She used to sing ‘Isn’t she Lovely’ to me all the time when I was a little thing… his music was always playing in my home,” she remembers. “Stevie is one of the people who taught me the art of story telling and the power of a well written love song… Talking Book‘s ‘Looking for Another Pure Love’ got me through one of the worse break ups ever.”

Favourite album: The Secret Life of Plants – “a record I believe to be one of Stevie’s most beautiful and most slept on records of all time…”

Joy Jones is another member of The Secret Life Of Plants fan club, because the album was “so simple conceptually, but had great depth in terms of content.” She was compelled by the energetic creativity of “Do I Do”: I loved that song, it just sounded like so much fun and so full of life. Stevie’s music is very visceral, when he sings it, you feel it!”

She then became convinced of his “beyond genius” upon studying his music. “He was actually singing melodies and chords that had yet to grace the musical vocabulary. I found that fascinating and it inspired me to find ways to be innovating, yet truthful and soulful.”

“When I first noticed what music was, his albums were the first I noticed,” says Grammy nominated independent artist Eric Roberson. “It’s always been there for me. Stevie Wonder was probably my biggest songwriting teacher when i considered doing music. I have three main influence that I feel crafted the sound and artistry I follow. Stevie Wonder is one of them. He’s just one of the most developed artist ever to do music.”

“Blame It On The Sun” was one of the songs that really taught me about song writing. I love the song because he doesn’t paint himself in a perfect light. We often try to paint ourselves as heroes or victims. that song showed our weaknesses. I learned from that. Plus it’s off Talking Book, my favorite Stevie album.”

Eclectic producer and keyboardist Black Einstein [formerly known as Emmanuel or ‘C Swing’] shares Eric’s enthusiasm for “Blame It On The Sun” and Talking Book; “It just struck a nerve with me. I love the lyrics and the music and it suits the subject perfectly about a relationship not working out.”

“His arrangements, chord structures, chord voicings, his approach to music, his business savvy – many, many things about Stevie Wonder influence my career,” he says. “Not being afraid to try things is a very important lesson I take from him.

“His early work with synthesisers at a time when they were just coming to the fore opened up the sound canvas for modern R&B, Soul, Hip Hop etc. He’s ability to emulate sounds on a keyboard such as string sections etc taught me to not stick to stick within the confines of what was expected, i.e, playing a string part on not necessarily a string sound.

“When you start to mess with convention suddenly the musical possibilities become endless.”

Notes:
Download Teedra Moses’ latest mixtape, Royal Patience, here.
Marsha Ambrosius is currently preparing to release her debut solo album on J Records.
TY’s London launch party at London’s Jazz Cafe for his latest album, Special Kind Of Fool, on May 31st.
Jesse Boykins III’s sophomore album, Love Apparatus, is due for release later this year – watch ‘Amorous’.
Watch Choklate’s official video for ‘Grown Folks’.
PJ Morton’s latest album, Walk Alone, is out now – read our interview.
Yahzarah has just released The Ballad Of Purple St James – download sampler.
Look out for Black Einstein‘s David Bowie inspired EP, Whatever Happened To Major Tom?, this summer.

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