my favorite version of "ave maria," one of schubert's most beautiful melodies and therefore amongst the greatest things to grace the ear, is by stevie wonder, recorded when he was just 17. just about every singer of repute, both pop and classical, has attempted the song, but none of them are quite so affecting as stevie's. why is this? he tackles it as a child-man, on the verge of becoming a man-child (which, arguably, he's been ever since); he is respectful--listen to the pronounciation! much better than bing's or sinatra's--but he is at the same time resolutely himself. one thing that i find is rarely mentioned when discussing "little" stevie is just how talented of a singer he was, perhaps b/c people were still trying to get their heads around the fact that he was a blind kid who could play the drums, and just about everything else. it is the vocals, though, that impress most, both their tone and the passion he brings to them. he sings like a child, w/ awe and wonder (pun unavoidable), which is precisely the way one should approach a hymn.
... perhaps i don't want to commit to the vocals as the most impressive just yet. b/c then what does one say about his harmonica playing (which never escaped notice)? sublime? well, yes. i don't know whose decision it was to blend blues harp w/ classical, though i bet stevie had something to do w/ it. it is, however unlikely it might seem, a stirring combination. whether it is w/ his voice or w/ his harp, stevie wonder, at such a tender age and w/ such overfamiliar material, exceeds the efforts of singers w/ twice the years and experience by simply being stevie wonder.