Despite being only 67 years old, Stevie Wonder's musical career spans more than 55 years due to him starting out at Detroit's famed Motown at the age of 11. Billed at the time as “Little Stevie Wonder,” Wonder's music grew as he did and he quickly shed the moniker of child prodigy to become one of the most beloved songwriters in the world, an artist who continues to headline arenas and festivals today. Wonder is also well-regarded as a tireless advocate for civil rights. With a resume like that, it's no wonder that artists from across the musical spectrum have lined up to to pay tribute by covering him. Here are seven of the best examples.
7. Lady Gaga- I Wish
Lady Gaga is best known as a pop star, but she has proven herself willing to dabble in practically every genre of music throughout her career, from jazz to traditional pop to metal. But, according to Gaga herself, Stevie Wonder is one of the earliest influences she had, and the first artist she remembers playing on her parents' stereo. Gaga paid tribute to Stevie Wonder in 1999 at his Kennedy Center Honors ceremony, with a funky and energetic rendition of “I Wish” from Wonder's iconic 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life.
6. Keb Mo- Isn't She Lovely
It might seem like an odd choice for a blues singer to choose one of Stevie Wonder's most gentle and joyous songs to cover, but Keb Mo is an artist who has followed in the Stevie Wonder mold of never being confined by genre. On his Grammy-nominated 2001 album Big Wide Grin, Keb Mo included his take on “Isn't She Lovely,” from Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life. Written by Wonder after the birth of his daughter, Keb Mo gives the song a jazzy blues arrangement that is almost as touching as the original.
5. Red Hot Chili Peppers- Higher Ground
One of the highest charting covers of a Stevie Wonder song came from one of the most unlikely places. Alt-rock legends Red Hot Chili Peppers recorded a supercharged version of the song for their album Mother's Milk. The song was released as the album's first single and climbed to #11 on the Modern Rock charts. The key to this version's success lies in the funky slap bass of Flea, who provides a strong anchor to the original that allows the rest of the band to venture into uncharted waters while keeping the song recognizable.
4. Ray Charles- Living for the City
The ultimate testament to Stevie Wonder's genius is how many contemporaries and predecessors chose to cover his songs through the years. Just a year after Wonder scored a Top 10 hit with the politically charged “Living for the City” in 1973, soul titan Ray Charles put his own spin on it for his 1974 album Renaissance. Charles' version added a spoken-word breakdown that added even more fury to the song's message. The pair have performed the song together several times over the years.
3. Victor Wooten- Overjoyed
In his years touring with the genre-defying group Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, bassist Victor Wooten has proven that he can play anything put in front of him. On his 1996 solo album A Show of Hands, he took it a step further, recording all of the album's songs using no instruments except bass. The best song from the album is this instrumental cover of Stevie Wonder's 1985 hit “Overjoyed.”
2. The Jackson 5- I Was Made to Love Her
One of the great things about the heyday of Motown was how songs passed seamlessly between the labels artists, giving varied versions of the same tune. In this case, Stevie Wonder's 1967 hit “I Was Made to Love Her” was recorded by The Jackson 5, with one of the few child stars on the label who was as big as Little Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. The song didn't see commercial release until 1979, on the compilation Boogie album, although Michael liked the version enough to include it again on his solo compilation Looking Back to Yesterday
1. Stevie Ray Vaughan- Superstition
Stevie Wonder was best known as a piano player, but one of his biggest hits is recognizable for its infectious guitar riff, co-written by a rising young guitar player named Jeff Beck. Beck has recorded his own electrifying renditions of “Superstition” over the years, but it was another Stevie, blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, who recorded the best cover of the song. Vaughan's virtuoso guitar skills and hard-driving blues-rock vocals resulted in a rendition that was completely unique, while still fully recognizable.