Born Steven Demetre Georgiou in London in 1948 and now known as Yusuf Islam following his conversion to Islam, Cat Stevens was one of the most successful singer-songwriters of the 1970s, thanks to hits like “Wild World,” “Moon Shadow,” “Peace Train,” “Oh Very Young,” and “Morning has Broken.” But he first achieved success in the mid-‘60s with U.K. hits including “I Love My Dog” and “Matthew and Son,” and big hits by artists who covered his songs, like “Here Comes My Baby” (The Tremeloes in 1967), “The First Cut is the Deepest” (P.P. Arnold in 1967 and later a hit for Rod Stewart, Sheryl Crow, Keith Hampshire and Dawn Penn), and “Wild World,” originally a hit in 1970 for Jimmy Cliff, and a later one for Maxi Priest.
The son of a Swedish mother and Greek father who operated a restaurant in London, Stevens became interested in folk music and rock ‘n’ roll in his teens, and in 1965 began performing under the name Steve Adams. After producer Mike Hurst (formerly a member of folk-pop group the Springfields along with Dusty Springfield) cut his demo of his song “I Love My Dog,” he signed with Decca Records’ Deram label under the name Cat Stevens: “I Love My Dog” became a Top 40 hit for him in 1966 and was followed by “Matthew and Son,” which reached No. 2 in the U.K. and charted in the U.S. The Tremeloes took his “Here Comes My Baby” Top 20 in both territories in 1967.
After recovering from a near-fatal bout of tuberculosis that required a year of recuperation, Stevens entered a period of intense reflection and meditation, lifestyle changes—and musical transformation. He stripped down his sound to achieve greater intimacy to match a new spiritual focus, and in 1970, his album Tea for the Tillerman yielded the classics “Wild World,” “Hard Headed Woman,” “Where Do the Children Play?” and “Father and Son”—and went gold in the U.S. The 1971 follow-up Teaser and the Firecat continued his success with the hits “Morning Has Broken,” “Moonshadow,” and “Peace Train”—memorably covered in 1987 by 10,000 Maniacs.
Stevens’ 1977 album Izitso made heavy use of synthesizers, with the track “Was Dog a Doughnut” seen by the likes of The Roots’ Questlove and Wu-Tang Clan’s GZA as a major influence on the hip-hop and electro music genres emerging in the 1980s. Also that year, he embraced Islam and changed his name to Yusuf Islam the following year: For most of the next three decades he gave up pop for devotional music, spoken word, educational and children’s albums, while quietly starting a family and committing himself to education and charitable activities.
The events of 9/11 moved Stevens to re-enter the spotlight in calling for peace and unity and performing some of his old songs again. In 2003 he received the World Social Award in Germany for “dedicating his life to aiding the needy and the ill,” and in 2004 he was given the Man of Peace award by Mikhail Gorbachev for his efforts to “alleviate the suffering of thousands of children and their parents and dedicating himself to promoting peace, reconciling people and the condemnation of terrorism.”
As Islam, Stevens fully returned to music in 2006 with the album An Other Cup. He continued recording—and touring—and in 2012 staged the musical Moonshadow, using his songs and themes. In 2014, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2017 earned his first Grammy nomination for his fifteenth studio album The Laughing Apple. The 2005/2006 ASCAP Songwriter of the Year (for “The First Cut is the Deepest) and 2007 Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Song Collection recipient continues his humanitarian efforts through his Peace Train project geared toward delivering relief, medical aid, and education, as well as promoting peace and respect amongst children of different backgrounds, nationalities, and religions.
His 1970 album Tea for the Tillerman yielded the classics “Wild World,” “Hard Headed Woman” and “Where Do the Children Play?”