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Mumtaz Morris

June 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Feature

Son of the lengendary Stevie Wonder talks about his dad on Father’s Day.

by Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud

Steve Wonder and son Mumtaz Morris

Legendary activist and political leader Adam Clayton Powell once said, “Mix a conviction with a man and something happens.” It is in this spirit that the work of Steveland Morris — known to the world as Stevie Wonder — has become an integral part of the lives of untold millions of people. Incubated in love and expressed with inimitable talent, his music lifted the morale of African-Americans during the civil rights movement and beyond, and he united a nation behind the righteous crusade to win a national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On this Father’s Day, for a rare look inside the life and legacy of this cultural icon, Black Image turned to the ultimate eyewitness: Twenty-six year-old Mumtaz Morris, one of Wonder’s eight children, and a talented musician in his own right.

What does your name mean?

It means “excellence.”

Tell us about your own musical project.

I am working on my own album, which is a combination of musical styles such as R&B, soul and pop. I love to play the piano, and sometimes I kinda venture off into an R&B, rock and country style of music. I know it sounds crazy, but people love the sound.

So your music is like gumbo — a little bit of everything. But does it taste good?

(Laughs) Yes, I think that is a good way to describe my music.

Does your father influence you musically?

Definitely! He is a tremendous musical influence for me. Especially when it comes to playing the piano and writing music, I often think about his creative process. My mother, Melody McCulley, also influenced me. She sang with my father for years. She recalls that when I was young, she would try to get me to sing — and I was awful, and had no ear for pitch. Now she says, “I don’t know where your voice came from.” When I was growing up, I had no interest in music and just wanted to play football and basketball.

What were you doing before you decided to follow in your father’s footsteps?

I was in college in Virginia, studying entrepreneurship and business. I used to play music in college, and my schoolmates used to really like it and encouraged me to do more. I used to sway away from music, because it was something my dad did — and I wanted to make my own career path.

When was the moment when your dad recognized your talent?

My dad is a tough critic, and he is even tougher on me. He initially didn’t want me to go into music because he didn’t want people to tear me apart. I really kept my music away from him for a while. When I first started to let him hear my music, I was so happy that he liked it. He really likes the song I wrote called “Relapse.” I was considering selling it to another artist to record, but he said, “Don’t you do that.” He went on to tell me the story about when he first wrote the song “Superstition,” and some people wanted him to sell it to another artist. He was so glad that he recorded the song himself, and it became a huge success. He told me that, sometimes, the songs you write are just for you to translate musically for global appreciation. My father gives me a lot of feedback and support for my music. But he is very careful not to get too involved, and I understand why. He has never pushed me into a musical direction — it is just something I wandered into.

What kind of performer are you onstage?

I have been working for the past month on my stage presence. I have dance routines to some of my uptempo songs, (but) I am captivated by how my dad can capture an audience by sitting behind a piano and playing his music. This is something I also enjoy — playing the piano and singing songs that engage the audience. I also grew up watching and loving Michael Jackson. I am really trying to let it go as an overall performer.

When you were young, how much was your father involved in your life?

I lived with my mother the majority of time when I was young and lived a very regular life like other children. When I would go to my dad’s house, it was like the bomb — with a lot of stuff that amazed me. My dad would play games with me, and it was so much fun. I remember on one of my birthdays, my dad took me to (the amusement park) Magic Mountain, and it was the best time. I remember we didn’t have to wait in the long lines to ride the rides. We would go ahead of everyone, and they cheered us on, “Go Stevie!” They were so happy to see us having a good time, and we would ride over and over again.

What is the greatest lesson your father has taught you?

The best thing my father has taught me is to have a great work ethic. My father still always works on his musical craft, even today. People often ask me how my dad keeps his voice up and sounding better than he ever has. I tell them that he works on his music and songs every day. I remember getting out of school and wanting to see my dad, (so) I would go to the studio. I knew I would be able to catch him there rehearsing. He would sometimes be in the studio from 12 p.m. until 5 p.m. the following day.

What does your father think about the R&B and hip-hop music of today?

He has a lot of respect for today’s black artists. He appreciates anybody who works hard.

How is your relationship with your father?

It is greater than ever. I appreciate him so much more, and everything he has done to overcome obstacles. He has done so much for me and our entire family, and I see things differently now as an adult.

How did your dad discipline you as a child?

My dad is a Taurus. He would rule with the iron fist. Any one of his children who would step out of line, he would be right there. I remember when I was around 7 years old and my dad asked me to “Come here.” I replied, “No!” I ran away from him, and he started chasing me and caught me. Although he is blind, he has incredible senses and a great sense of hearing. When he caught me, he gave me a whipping in front of everybody.

How are you going to celebrate Father’s Day?

Normally, the family gets together for a family dinner at my dad’s house. I will probably get him a portable bed because he is always working in the studio and stays for days. This will be something he can sleep on when he gets tired.

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