Advance Notice: Briefs

‘He provoked you to think’: Detroit leaders reflect on Stevie Wonder’s ‘Innervisions’ turning 50

By: - August 4, 2023 7:30 am

Motown Records legend Stevie Wonder (center) receiving a “Key to the City” from Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young in 1974. | Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

Michigan native and Motown Records legend Stevie Wonder’s seminal album, “Innervisions,” turns 50 years old this week.

Wonder released the recording at a time when he commanded artistic autonomy to pursue issues such as race discrimination and social injustice. The artist who was born in Saginaw and raised in Detroit was 23 years old at the time of “Innervisions” release on Aug. 3, 1973. Tracks in the collection also address the problem of drug abuse in “Too High” and systemic racism in “Living for the City.” 

The Advance interviewed Michigan political officials who have been impacted by the collection. 

Jonathan Kinloch, a Wayne County commissioner, grew up in Detroit as a Stevie Wonder fan. Kinloch remembers Wonder’s activism and described it as a source of inspiration. 

“Coming from Detroit, coming from the old westside, Motown was down the street. Growing up, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson were two of my favorite artists,” said Kinloch, who earlier in his career worked as a music industry manager. 

State Rep. Tyrone Carter, April 22, 2019 | Ken Coleman

State Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit) also has been impacted by Wonder’s “Innervisions.” 

“He provoked you to think,” Carter said about Wonder and his 1973 recording. “When you think about ‘Innervisions,’ it was thought provoking.” 

The album rocketed to No. 1 on the Billboard Soul Album chart. At the 16th Grammy Awards, in 1974, “Innervisions” won “Album of the Year” and “Best Engineered Non-Classical Recording,” and “Living for the City” won Best R&B Song.

In 1974, Wonder received a key to the city from Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young. Several years later, Wonder championed a federal holiday to honor the work of civil rights activist Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and he advocated for the release of South African human rights leader Nelson Mandela. 

When Mandela visited Detroit on June 28, 1990 as part of his historic eight-city, 10-day tour of the United States, Wonder was among the artists who marked the celebration, alongside Ortheia Barnes, Aretha Franklin and the Winans.

In 2003, the album ranked No. 23 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Then-U.S. President Barack Obama in 2014 presented to Wonder the Presidential Medal of Freedom award. 

Stevie Wonder was awarded an honorary doctorate by Wayne State University in 2022. 


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.