Got Rhythm—and Blues
In late 1963, Stevie recorded a live version of the song “Fingertips.” Stevie did not write “Fingertips,” but he showed the record producers what he could do with his musical talents. Stevie had been playing concerts for Hitsville USA promoters for months. He was on the bill with other Hitsville artists. The Hitsville producers were still trying to figure out how to market this preteen talent.
Stevie played much better in front of an audience. His studio recordings were good, but in front of a crowd Stevie really shined. Stevie was especially animated while performing “Fingertips.” This song had Stevie playing harmonica and singing mostly “yeah, yeah, yeah” over and over. But the way Stevie sang the song drove audiences crazy. Gordy decided to record Stevie singing “Fingertips” and other songs while at Chicago's Regal Theatre. Some of the songs were OK, but “Fingertips” and “La La La La La” were out of this world! Stevie got the crowd clapping and singing along to “Fingertips.” Stevie improvised his harmonica solo and drew the song out long and smooth. The live version of “Fingertips” was far better than the studio version.
Hitsville USA thought the beat was great and the screaming just enough to excite a teenage crowd. The producers decided to promote the song heavily. To help the song catch on with the public, they wanted Steveland Morris to change his name. Hitsville USA wanted a hit name to go with what they hoped would be a hit song.
At thirteen, Stevie often lost himself in his music while performing for audiences. Sometimes his manager had to go on stage and carry Stevie off.
Stevie had been around the studio for more than a year already. His talent was well known among the producers and recording technicians. Stevie's conductor, Clarence Paul, called him Little Stevie. He was also known as “the little boy wonder.” When someone suggested the name Little Stevie Wonder, Berry Gordy liked the sound. “They didn't like ‘Steve Morris,’” Stevie remembered. “So they changed it.” Stevie liked his own name, but he was a recording artist and did what the record company wanted.