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Coming of Age at Motown

Back On Top–this Time To Stay

Late in 1965, Stevie decided he wanted to record “Blowin’ in the Wind.” This was Bob Dylan's antiwar song, and not the type of Motown sound that the executives thought Stevie should be singing. Stevie wouldn't budge. He wanted to record “Blowin’ in the Wind” and sing it his way, using his vocal and instrumental styles. The song reflected Stevie's feelings about the growing conflict in Vietnam. Stevie was becoming mature in his outlook on life, the war, and race relations, and America's changing social makeup was not lost on this hardworking performer.

“Blowin’ in the Wind” reached number nine in America, entered the top thirty in Britain, and hit number one on the R & B charts. Stevie found that his musical style was moving away from the typical Motown sound. He enjoyed singing slow ballads, but he also liked to stretch his rock and roll talents. His voice was suited to both musical styles, and his songwriting was becoming unique.

“I never felt that I strictly embodied the Motown sound,” Stevie said. “I mean there weren't too many people around there doing white-folk stuff like ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ or ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ like I was.”

Over the next three years, Stevie recorded other artists’ songs and included them on his albums. Motown resisted his recording such songs as “Water Boy,” “Alfie,” and “Traveling Man.” These songs spoke of the turmoil surrounding the American civil rights battle going on all across the South. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, one month before Stevie turned eighteen. Riots began to tear apart many cities, including his hometown, Detroit. Stevie could not see these events covered on television news programs. He did, however, feel them emotionally. Stevie understood that he had different colored skin than most other Americans. While he did not see this as a problem, he knew many Americans felt otherwise. Stevie's songs showed the music-listening public and his fans that he was trying to pull all Americans together through his music.

Stevie's popularity and star power helped to bridge some of the anger felt between blacks and whites in America. From 1968 to 1970, Stevie had four songs reach the top ten on the charts: “For Once in My Life” (#2); “My Cherie Amour” (#4); ‘Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday” (#7); and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours” (#7). That kind of exposure kept Stevie in the public eye and on the music charts.

Additional topics

Musician BiographiesStevie WonderComing of Age at Motown - Managing Music And School, Short Homecomings, Back On Top–this Time To Stay, Growing Up And Away