August 1963: Little Stevie Wonder Scores His First No. 1 with His "Fingertips (Pt. 2)"

Little Stevie Wonder
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Little Stevie Wonder was just 11 years old when he signed with Motown.

After making his musical debut with his first two records, The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie as well as a tribute album to Ray Charles, the young prodigy, then 12-years-old, hit the road alongside Motortown Revue, the touring Motown production that showcased many of the label's artists.

"Now I want you to clap your hands," Wonder addressed the crowd as he prepared for the finale during his live set at Chicago's Regal Theater. “The name of the song is called, uh, ‘Fingertips.' Come on, come on. Yeah, stomp your feet, jump up and down, and do anything that you wanna do.”

Motown head Berry Gordy had arranged for a recording truck to capture this live Chicago performance. With a drum beat jumpstarted by a Motown musician by the name of Marvin Gaye, Wonder kicked into full gear with an extended version of "Fingertips," complete with wicked harmonica solos and wild horn-stabs.

The kid's magical energy was infectious. Halfway into his performance, he began howling instructions to the crowd in a magnetic call-and-response section: "Everybody say yeah!" Wonder worked the crowd into a frothing madhouse before he left the stage so that next act, the Marvelettes, could get ready.

But he wasn't finished. On the climactic "Fingertips (Pt. 2), we hear the night's MC tell the crowd to give it up for Wonder, even as Wonder makes a return to his stage for an impromptu encore, harmonica in hand. 

The next moments are so chaotic as the house band - in the middle of prepping for Marvelettes - frantically try and keep up with the night's turn of events that we hear incoming bass player Joe Swift shout, "What key? What key?"

The crowd never stops clapping along even as Wonder breathes lilting notes into the harmonica as the band adjusts and then screams along in ecstatic joy when Wonder brings the full showdown to a close. 

The resulting recorded was divided into two parts in May, with the Part II featured as the b-side. But given the unmatched and unpredictable energy of the call-and-response between Wonder and the crowd that night, it was the b-side that the radio stations spun in full blast.

By August, "Fingertips (Pt. 2)" launched to the height of charts, scoring No. 1 on both pop and R&B, officiating Wonder as the youngest soloist to top the charts.

When asked about the single's smashing, almost prophetic success, Wonder later replied “All of this was recorded by accident, I never thought it would be a single."

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