Each week, the latest honoree is revealed on CMT Hot 20 Countdown .
An R&B superstar who has won 22 Grammy awards and an Oscar for best song, Wonder signed his first record contract when he was just 11 years old. By the age of 13, he had his first No. 1 hit.
Blind since shortly after birth, Wonder would become a beloved singer and multi-instrumentalist who plays everything from bongos and bass guitar to harmonica and his signature keyboards.
His hits include classics like “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours),” “Superstition” and “Isn’t She Lovely,” the latter written about his newborn daughter.
Wonder remains a sought-after collaborator, defying genre boundaries to work with artists like Sting, Elton John and Babyface. His duet with Paul McCartney on “Ebony and Ivory” is an undisputed classic.
With more than 30 Top 10 hits and 100 million records sold in total, he is a member of both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
“I’ve actually covered ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’ in my show,” Young says. “I think Stevie Wonder is so exceptionally talented that I think sometimes you forget it. Then you’ll come across one of his songs again and go, ‘Oh, my god! That’s just amazing, amazing music.’
“Not only is he a great singer,” Young continued. “He’s a writer and he’s a fantastic musician. I mean, there are so many things that he is truly adept at. I think there’s a lot of people that look up to him as an artist, songwriter and as a musician.”
Williams echoed that sentiment and praised Wonder for his wide ranging list of influences.
“Stevie, first of all, as a musician — as a drummer, as a harmonica player, every instrument that he plays — is absolutely brilliant,” Williams said. “I met him one time, and he told me ‘Holly, make the radio your television. The radio had to be my television because I couldn’t see. That’s why I love your grandfather (Hank Williams) or I listen to Bob Dylan or I listen to Led Zeppelin.’ He has so many influences.
“‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’ is my No. 1 cover song,” Williams said. “I do it sometimes at shows, and at my wedding, I sang it. … I think country artists are doing this more R&B, hip-hop side of things, and you can draw from him. The songwriting, the simple beautiful songs. Songs like “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” That could be a country song today, you know?
“And again, someone who paved his own way and did not let his handicap hold him back … if anything, it made him blossom into who he was. Everyone should go see a Stevie Wonder concert.”
Hayes has been very vocal of his love of Stevie Wonder from the beginning of his young career. He cites Wonder as a major influence, and they even shared the stage together for “Sir Duke” at the 2013 Academy of Country Music Awards.
“I felt like everything I saw about Stevie — the interviews, the live shows, just what I knew from a distance — I felt like it was the same thing (I have inside me), you know?” Hayes confessed. “I love the way the records were made. I loved the way they sounded. It was just cool. There was no fanciness to it. It was serious grooves, serious music.
“Meeting him for the first time in L.A., he surprised me with a visit. He came by the office I was visiting at the time and sort of walked in, and I just remember seeing him and going ‘Oh, my God.’ I was legitimately speechless the first time in my life. And I was about to cry. I was so excited he was in the room — that I had finally had the chance to talk to him.”
Check out the rest of the CMT All-Time Top 40: Artists Choice list, and find out who will be announced next each Saturday at 11 a.m. ET/PT on CMT Hot 20 Countdown.