Stevie Wonder will receive Israel’s Wolf Prize, which has been awarded since 1978 to outstanding artists and scientists from around the world “for achievements in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among peoples.”
Past music winners of the Wolf Prize include Paul McCartney, Wonder’s partner on the 1982 smash “Ebony and Ivory,” a brotherhood anthem that neatly encapsulates the Wolf Prize’s values. Most of the 21 past music winners — including Vladimir Horowitz, Isaac Stern, Zubin Mehta, Pierre Boulez and Plácido Domingo — come from the classical world. Wonder will be only the second Black recipient in the music field, following opera singer Jessye Norman.
Wonder, 70, is one of two music honorees this year, along with Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth, 52. Neuwirth is only the second female music recipient, also following Norman.
A statement from the not-for-profit Wolf Foundation, which administers the award, sheds light on the selection of this year’s two music honorees. “Both Neuwirth and Wonder, though fundamentally different in genre and style, have pushed the boundaries of their art, each in his/her own realm of expression, to serve as a vehicle for universal values and humanistic ideals.”
The Wolf Prize recognizes achievements in both scientific categories (medicine, agriculture, mathematics, chemistry and physics) and arts categories (painting and sculpting, music and architecture). The prize laureates are selected by international jury committees. Each honoree receives a certificate and a monetary award of $100,000. To date, 345 scientists and artists have been honored. The prize presentation takes place at a special ceremony at the Knesset (Israel´s Parliament), in Jerusalem.
The Wolf Prize’s bio on Wonder is uncommonly thoughtful and sheds light on how Wonder, and his country, are perceived around the world.
Here are highlights: “Stevie Wonder’s music draws its inspiration from rhythm and blues, jazz, soul, and funk, but its core is welded deeply into the rich culture of the Black community throughout the history of the United States and its roots in Africa…
“In the USA, he has received practically every outstanding honor and award and is generally considered an icon of the American music scene. In his brilliant and unique musical language that broadened the melodic, harmonic and sound-concept of the genre, he has transformed the music world and influenced many of the great musicians who came after him.
“Wonder has combined words and music to articulate joy and pain, deeply rooted in hardship, sadness and injustice, criticizing the racist American society. His message of love and peace and universal brotherly love have inspired and helped so many. Wonder has left strong, lasting marks as a humanitarian, philanthropist and civil rights activist, as he has used his success and fame to affect people and make the world a better place.”
Wonder has received countless awards and honors, both for his music and for his civil rights work. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. He received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in 1996 and a Kennedy Center Honor in 1999.
He has also received a lifetime achievement award from the National Civil Rights Museum, was named one of the United Nations Messengers of Peace, and received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2014.