News your connection to The Boston Globe

Lula Mae Hardaway, 75; mother of music icon Stevie Wonder

LOS ANGELES -- One day in the 1970s Stevie Wonder was at home in Detroit, playing around on the family piano. He had a piece of a melody, a slice of a lyric. And he sang it again and again: ``Here I am baby. . . . Here I am baby."

Nearby was Lula Mae Hardaway, his mother, who eventually came up with the hook: ``Signed, sealed, and delivered. I'm yours."

That song would become a hit for Stevie Wonder. That moment was emblematic of a relationship between mother and son.

Ms. Hardaway, who co-wrote some of her son's other hits, such as ``I Was Made to Love Her," died May 31. She was 75. The family disclosed no information about the cause or location of her death.

In 2003 Ms. Hardaway told her life story in ``Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder's Mother." The authorized biography details her life of early abandonment and abuse and the extreme love she had for her children.

Ms. Hardaway was born Jan. 11, 1930, in Eufaula, Ala. Her mother was a teenager who left her in the care of a sharecropping aunt and uncle who raised Lula Mae as their own.

Their deaths threw her world in turmoil; she moved around between relatives. Eventually, Ms. Hardaway moved to Saginaw, Mich. There she married a man more than 30 years her elder, who physically abused her and forced her into prostitution. Ms. Hardaway did it to buy food for her children, and stole coal to keep her family warm.

Surviving and escaping that life was an exercise in faith. But raising her third child, born Stevland Judkins, was an act of negotiation, each day maneuvering through her own emotions of guilt and despair. She believed his blindness was God's retribution for the things she had done in her life. Yet she was convinced ``that God had never placed a happier child on the face of the earth," wrote the authors of ``Blind Faith."

For years she took him to faith healers and doctors, hoping to find a cure for the blindness that doctors surmised was caused when Wonder, born prematurely, received too much oxygen in an incubator. Wonder grew up undaunted by his blindness, playing war with his brothers and neighborhood children, getting in trouble, and mastering every instrument he picked up.

The family would eventually move to Detroit, where Wonder would sign with Motown Records when he was still just a boy. Ms. Hardaway would support him behind the scenes, raising her family and occasionally helping write songs such as ``You Met Your Match" and ``I Don't Know Why I Love You."

In 1973, Wonder was seriously injured in a near-fatal car accident, an eerie real-life version of a recurring nightmare Ms. Hardaway had had over the years. But the following year, Ms. Hardaway was with her then 23-year-old son at the Hollywood Palladium when he received his first Grammy.

``I can only thank God he's alive to accept these awards," she said in a 1974 Los Angeles Times article.

Before the event, Wonder had expressed his desire for his mother to join him on stage if he won. He won many times that night and the final time his name was announced as a winner, Ms. Hardaway walked to the stage with him. Wonder handed the statuette to his mother. ``Her strength has led us to this place," he is quoted in ``Blind Faith."

Wonder bought a house for his mother in the San Fernando Valley area, where she enjoyed a life of church, fishing, horse racing, and cooking, including what family members called a ``legendary peach cobbler." In a statement released to the Los Angeles Times, he said: ``We prayed for our mother to have the best. We wanted her to be queen. . . . We were blessed a million times by the blessing that I received in my life."

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives