50 Years Ago: Stevie Wonder’s Future Is ‘Signed Sealed Delivered’
The release of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” in June 1970 marked a pivotal turning point in the career of Stevie Wonder.
By that summer, the 20-year-old artist had already established himself as a rising pop and R&B star. The former child prodigy had scored a bevy of hit singles, including “Fingertips Part 2” (1963), “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” (1965), “For Once in My Life” (1968) and “My Cherie Amour.” Still, all of his work up until this point had been created within the framework of his Motown Records label, with a watchful producer overseeing each track.
Wonder’s desire for further creative control helped lead the musician to “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours.” He penned the song alongside three other co-writers: Syreeta Wright, an aspiring singer who would later become Wonder’s first wife; Lee Garrett, a former disc jockey and one of Wonder’s closest friends; and Wonder’s mother, Lula Mae Hardaway. Legend has it that Hardaway was the one who came up with the song’s chorus, a credit Wonder himself confirmed in a 2008 interview on the BBC program Friday Night With Jonathan Ross.
Still, Garrett refuted that notion during a 2017 conversation with author Adam White, suggesting instead that Wonder gave his mother partial songwriting credit as a favor. “Nobody knows this,” the Garrett declared, “but as a gift to his mother, [Wonder] gave her part of the song.”
Regardless of the exact details, Wonder knew he had another hit on his hands with “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” and he was determined to maintain his artistic vision for the song. After initially bristling with the artist’s desire to self-produce, Motown label head Berry Gordy, Jr. relented and gave Wonder the go-ahead.
Listen to Stevie Wonder's 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours'
“Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” represented the broadest instrumental experimentation of Wonder’s career to that point. An electric sitar was used throughout, a reflection of the singer’s affinity for the Beatles. A vibrant brass section featured sax and trumpets, while a trio of female backing singers lent their voices to support Wonder’s.
The song became one of the biggest hits of Wonder’s career, selling more than a million copies, while also earning two Grammy nominations. More importantly, it proved that Wonder could operate on his own, with Gordy granting the artist freedom to control his creations moving forward. “Stevie was ready to fly,” the Motown head later admitted.