After two years, we have the second number one to come out of Motown, Berry Gordy’s fantastic music making company. “Fingertips” is the first number one song of the rock era that was recorded live. The previous live number one was “It’s In the Book” from Johnny Stanley way back in 1952.
Stevie Wonder was born in 1950 in Saginaw, Michigan and was the very definition of a child prodigy. He was born six weeks premature and was exposed to an oxygen rich atmosphere in his incubator which resulted in retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) and this resulted in blindness shortly after birth. His birth name was Stevland Hardaway Judkins, but when he was four, his mother and father were divorced and she and the children moved to Detroit to live with relatives. There she changed his name to Stevland Morris (Morris was a family name) and so, that is Stevie’s legal name.
He was gifted right from the beginning, learning to play the piano, harmonica and drums. He also sang in the Whitestone Baptist Church Choir. When he was nine, he and a friend, John Glover got together to sing for whoever would listen. The were known as Stevie and John and sang on street corners and at parties. John had a cousin named Ronnie White. In 1961, White, one of the Miracles (as in Smokey Robinson and the Miracles,) heard them sing. White liked him so much, he called Berry Gordy and got Stevie an audition at Motown. Gordy liked him and signed him to a contract with Tamla Records, one of the Motown labels. Just before they signed the contract producer Clarence Paul took one look at Stevie and gave him the official name of “Little” Stevie Wonder. “Little” was popular for artists names in the early Sixties. There was Little Anthony and Little Willie John. Gordy and Paul thought Stevie was a “wonder,” so they considered called him Stevie the Little Wonder. Luckily, they settled on Little Stevie Wonder, instead. Stevie was just twelve years old.
“Fingertips” was an album cut on Stevie’s first album, The Jazz Soul of Stevie Wonder. It was originally almost seven minutes long, so when they cut the single, they broke it in half with part 1 on one side and part 2 on the other. Disc jockeys liked the B-side and so, Part 2 became the hit. Toward the end, Stevie walks off stage as if he’s done (with the MC yelling, “Let’s hear it for Little Stevie Wonder”) and then suddenly comes back for his famous ”goodbye” sequence. This really threw the band off. They weren’t expecting it. In the original, a band member can be heard shouting “What key?” at this point. Needless to say, this record set off a lifetime career for Stevie Wonder which lasts until today. He would have 86 Top 40 songs with nine more going to number one.
“Fingertips, Part 2” entered the pop chart on July 6, 1963 and stayed at number one for three weeks.