Lula Mae Hardaway, 76; Stevie Wonder's Mother Helped Him Write Lyrics

Times Staff Writer

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, delivered. I'm yours."

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

Lula Mae Hardaway, who co-wrote some of her son's hits, including "I Was Made to Love Her" and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours," died May 31. She was 76. The family disclosed no information about the cause or location of her death.

In 2003 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.

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

Their deaths threw her world into turmoil and landed her in the hands of a string of relatives.

Eventually, Hardaway moved to Saginaw, Mich. There she married a man more than 30 years older than she, who physically abused her and forced her into prostitution for a time. Hardaway did it to buy food for her children, and stole coal to keep her family warm.

Surviving and escaping that life were exercises 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 kids in the neighborhood, getting into trouble, and mastering every instrument he picked up -- one of his many gifts.

When he was still a boy, Stevie helped his mother to see that his life was good. That epiphany is recounted in "Blind Faith."

I worry because I can't always be there to watch after you. I worry that you won't be happy, because you'll always wish that you could see. And there's nothing Mama can do about it.

And, then, Stevie said it: Don't be sad, Mama. I'm not sad....

And at that moment Lula realized that it was true:... He wasn't burdened with the weight of his affliction. He didn't feel sorry for himself or seek pity from others.

The family eventually moved to Detroit, where Wonder signed with Motown Records when he was still a boy.

Hardaway supported him behind the scenes, raising her family and occasionally helping write songs, including "You Met Your Match" and "I Don't know Why I Love You."

In 1973, Stevie Wonder was seriously injured in a car accident, an eerie real-life version of a recurring nightmare Hardaway had had over the years.

But the next year, 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 Hardaway to join him onstage if he won.

He won many times that night, and the final time his name was announced as a winner, 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 as saying in "Blind Faith."

Wonder later purchased a house for his mother in the San Fernando Valley, where she enjoyed a life of churchgoing, fishing, horse racing and cooking, including what family members called a "legendary peach cobbler."

In a statement released to The Times, Wonder 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."

A service was held for Hardaway on Thursday at West Angeles Church of God in Christ. There were remarks by Motown founder Berry Gordy and songs by gospel singer Yolanda Adams and others. Wonder delivered the eulogy and sang a gospel song, a statement of faith, fortitude and thankfulness called "I Won't Complain."

In addition to Wonder, Hardaway is survived by her children: Milton Hardaway, Calvin Hardaway, Timothy Hardaway and Renee Hardaway. Her surviving siblings are Effie Maybell Rhodes, Minnie Askew, Arthur Hardaway, Mary Ann Thomas and Herman Hardaway. She had 20 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. A son, Larry Judkins Hardaway, preceded her in death.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
68°