By age 13, Wonder had a major hit, "Fingertips (Pt. 2)", a 1963 single taken from a live recording of a Motor Town Revue performance, issued on the album Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius. The song, featuring Wonder on vocals, bongos, and harmonica, and a young Marvin Gaye on drums, was a #1 hit on the U.S. pop and R&B charts and launched him into the public consciousness.
Wonder's songs are renowned for being quite difficult to sing. He has a very developed sense of harmony and uses many extended chords utilizing extensions such as 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, b5s, etc. in his compositions. Many of his melodies make abrupt, unpredictable changes. Many of his vocal melodies are also melismatic, meaning that a syllable is sung over several notes. Some of his best known and most frequently covered songs are played in keys which are more often found in jazz than in pop and rock. For example, "Superstition", "Higher Ground" and "I Wish" are in the key of E flat minor, and feature distinctive riffs in the E flat minor pentatonic scale (i.e. largely on the black notes of the keyboard).
Wonder played a large role in bringing synthesizers to the forefront of popular music. He developed many new textures and sounds never heard before. In 1981, Wonder became the first owner of an E-mu Emulator. With the soundtrack album Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants (1979), featured in the film The Secret Life of Plants. Mostly instrumental, the album was composed using the Computer Music Melodian, an early sampler. Wonder toured briefly in support of the album, and used a Fairlight CMI sampler on stage.
Stevie Wonder has recorded more than thirty U.S. top ten hits and received twenty-two Grammy Awards, the most ever awarded to a male solo artist. Wonder is also noted for his work as an activist for political causes, including his 1980 campaign to make Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday a holiday in the United States. In 2009, Wonder was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace. In 2008, Billboard magazine released a list of the Hot 100 All-Time Top Artists to celebrate the US singles chart's fiftieth anniversary, with Wonder at number five. Between 1983 and 2009, Wonder has also won numerous other awards and received recognition.