Stevie Wonder is now recognized as an American music icon. He has won 22 Grammy Awards, an Oscar, 10 of his singles have topped the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles Chart, and his albums have sold tens of millions of copies.
Blind since just after his birth, he signed a contract with the Motown label at the age of 11. By the time he was 13, he was a star.
Originally Motown did not quite know what to do with him, however. His two 1962 albums, The Jazz Soul Of Little Stevie and Tribute To Uncle Ray, received little attention or commercial success. It was then his label decided to record his concert act and release it as a live album.
The tape machines were rolling in June of 1962 at the Royal Theater in Chicago. Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius was released in May of the following year, ultimately topping Billboard Magazine’s Pop and Rhythm & Blues Album Charts.
The nearly seven-minute “Fingertips” was the lead track and captured the raw energy of the album overall. He was still known as Little Stevie Wonder and his vocals reflect his young age. As he matured so too did his voice, becoming a formidable instrument. Here it is somewhat of an acquired taste as he is more of a wailer than a singer. Originally a jazz-type instrumental from his first album, a few lyrics were added, which made it a call-and-response song. The highlights are the harmonica and bongos played by Wonder. Released as a single, the “Part 2” B-side became the hit, and like its parent album, topped both the Billboard Pop and R&B Charts. The drummer on the track is future Motown superstar Marvin Gaye.
“Soul Bongo,” co-written by Gaye, and “La La La La La,” are both short bursts of soulful energy.
The bulk of the concert is of three Ray Charles covers, which had appeared in studio form on the tribute album to Wonder’s idol the year before. “(I’m Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over,” “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” and “Drown In My Own Tears” are chaotic and fresh, but Little Stevie does not quite have the voice to pull them off at this stage in his career.
Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius catches Wonder at the start of his career. When you consider the quality of the material that would follow, it remains more of a historical piece than an essential listen. Still, it is an interesting look into the beginning of the career of a future superstar.