Standing on His Own
Breaking (from) The Mold
When Stevie Wonder turned twenty-one on May 13, 1971, his trust fund was opened to him. The last eleven years had included record sales of many millions. It also included expenses, but most of his money had been saved for him. Stevie now had control of more than a million dollars. Luckily, Stevie had learned how to be cautious with his finances, Ted Hall, his mother, and other friends from Motown had taught Stevie well. These lessons helped Stevie to not get too excited about all this money. He had not learned “champagne tastes,” and there was no fear that he would go on a spending spree.
As a minor, Stevie had his mother sign his Motown contracts. Now that he was of legal age, those contracts were no good. Stevie could renegotiate with Motown, or ask that the contracts be torn up. Stevie didn't need to think too hard about his decision. He was ready to move on. The president of Motown Records, Ewart Abner II, recalled their meeting: “He came to me and said, ‘I'm twenty-one now. I'm not gonna do what you say anymore. Void my contract.’ I freaked.”
“Freaked” is the right word, too. If Motown had not seen this coming, then they must have felt like a truck had hit the building. Stevie was possibly their top artist and performer and he had just told them to take a hike. Motown executives were hurt, felt betrayed, and knew that money was walking right out the door. Stevie remembered that day: “They were upset at first. But they began to understand—later. I wasn't growing. I just kept repeating ‘The Stevie Wonder Sound,’ and it didn't express how I felt about what was happening in the world. I decided to go for something else besides a winning formula. I wanted to see what would happen if I changed.”