100 Greatest Artists

15

Stevie Wonder

Illustration by Sterling Hundley

Let me put it this way: Wherever I go in the world, I always take a copy of Songs in the Key of Life. For me, it's the best album ever made, and I'm always left in awe after I listen to it. When people in decades and centuries to come talk about the history of music, they will talk about Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder. Stevie came out of the golden age of Motown, when they were putting out the best R&B records in the world from Detroit, and he evolved into an amazing songwriter and a genuine musical force of nature.

He's so multitalented that it's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes him one of the greatest ever. But first, there's that voice. Along with Ray Charles, he's the greatest R&B singer who ever lived. Nobody can sing like he does. I know: I actually recorded a version of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" when I was young, and I really had to squeeze my balls to get those high notes.

As a keyboard player, I've played with him over the years, and he never ceases to amaze me, the stuff he comes up with. He can play anything — check out his harmonica playing. I think I'm a pretty good musician, but he's in a whole other league. He could play with Charlie Parker or John Coltrane and hold his own.

Stevie's Sixties hits are amazing — joyful music that still sounds great — but then, starting in the Seventies, he hit a run of albums that's unsurpassed in music history, from Talking Book to Songs in the Key of Life. I think the elite — the most major of major artists — often have a period when they can do no wrong. It happened to Prince, too, who is like Stevie in some ways. He has got an immeasurable amount of talent — so much talent that sometimes it can seem like he's kind of lost.

Stevie is an amazingly positive, peaceful man. When you ask him to do something, he is generous. He loves music. He loves to play. When he comes into a room, people adore him. And there aren't many artists like that. People admire you and they like your records, but they don't want to stand up and hug you. But this man is a good man. He tries to use his music to do good. His message, I think, is about love, and in the world we live in today, that message does shine through.

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