Yusuf Islam, formerly known by his stage name Cat Stevens (born Steven Demetre Georgiou on 21 July 1948 in London, UK), is an English musician, singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, educator, philanthropist and prominent convert to Islam. As ‘Cat Stevens’, he has sold over 60 million albums around the world since the late 1960s. His albums Tea for the Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat were both certified by the RIAA as having achieved Triple Platinum status in the United States (three million sales each); his album Catch Bull at Four sold half a million copies in the first two weeks of release and was Billboard’s number-one LP for three consecutive weeks. His songwriting has also earned him two ASCAP songwriting awards (for “The First Cut Is the Deepest,” which has been a hit single for four different artists.) Stevens converted to Islam at the height of his fame in 1977. The following year, he adopted his Muslim name Yusuf Islam and left his music career to devote himself to educational and philanthropic causes in the Muslim community. In 2006, he returned to pop music, with his first album of new pop songs in 28 years, entitled An Other Cup. He has been given several awards for his work in promoting peace in the world, including the 2004 Man for Peace award and the 2007 Mediterranean Prize for Peace. He lives with his wife, Fauzia Mubarak Ali, and five children in Brondesbury Park, London, and spends part of each year in Dubai.
Steven Georgiou was the third child of a Greek-Cypriot father (Stavros Georgiou) and a Swedish mother (Ingrid Wickman). The family lived above Moulin Rouge, the restaurant that his parents operated on Shaftesbury Avenue, a few steps from Piccadilly Circus in the Soho area of London. His whole family worked in the restaurant. Although his father was Greek Orthodox and his mother Baptist, Stevens was sent to a Catholic school, St. Joseph Roman Catholic Primary School in Macklin Street. Though Steven’s parents divorced when he was about 8 years old, they continued to maintain and live above the family restaurant. Steven developed an interest in piano at a young age. When he was 12, he extended this interest to songwriting and playing guitar. A few years later, Stevens and his mother returned to Gävle, Sweden, where he started developing his drawing skills after being influenced by his uncle Hugo, a painter. At age 16, he left school and was accepted by, then later dismissed from, Hammersmith Art School. Although he enjoyed art — his later record albums would feature his original artwork on the covers — Stevens wanted to establish a musical career. It was during this period he was first influenced by folk music.
He began to perform his songs in coffee houses and pubs. Thinking that his Greek name might not be memorable as a stage name, he sought a new one. He said, “I couldn’t imagine anyone going to the record store and asking for that Stephen Demetre Georgiou album. And in England, and I was
sure in America, they loved animals.” He adopted the name Cat Stevens, reportedly chosen because a girlfriend said he had eyes like a cat. In 1966, at age 18, he impressed manager/producer Mike Hurst, formerly of British vocal group The Springfields, with his songs and Hurst arranged for him to record a demo and then helped him get a record deal. The first singles, “I Love My Dog” and “Matthew and Son” (the title song from his debut album, released in the beginning of 1967) and “I’m Gonna Get Me a Gun” reached Britain’s Top 10, and the album Matthew and Son itself began charting. Over the next two years, Stevens recorded and toured with artists ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Engelbert Humperdinck. Stevens was considered a teen pop sensation, placing several single releases in the British pop music charts. Some of that success was attributed to the pirate radio station Wonderful Radio London, which played his records. In August 1967, he went on the air with other recording artists who had benefited from the pirate station to mourn its closure. His December 1967 album New Masters failed to chart in the United Kingdom. The album is now most notable for his song “The First Cut Is the Deepest” which has become an international hit for P.P. Arnold, Keith Hampshire, Rod Stewart, James Morrison, and Sheryl Crow, and has won several song-writing awards, including ASCAP Songwriter of the Year in 2006. Stevens was living a fast-moving pop-star life and in early 1968 at the age of 19, he became very ill with tuberculosis. During several months in the hospital and a year of convalescence, Stevens began to question aspects of his life, took up meditation, read about other religions and became a vegetarian. During that time, as part of his spiritual awakening and questioning, he wrote as many as 40 songs, which were much more introspective than his previous work. Many of those songs were to appear on his albums in years to come.
Now healthy and armed with a new perspective on what he wanted to bring to the world with his music, and a catalog of introspective songs, the stage was set for international stardom. He landed a new record contract with an American distribution deal in 1970, signing with Island Records (then rival A&M Records in North America), and released Mona Bone Jakon, a folk-based album that was much different from his more “pop” style earlier records, drawing on his new, introspective work. The album featured the songs “Lady D’Arbanville”, which was written for Stevens’ girlfriend at the time, actress Patti D’Arbanville; “Pop Star”, about his experience as a teen star; and “Katmandu”, featuring Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel playing flute. Mona Bone Jakon was an early example of the solo singer-songwriter album that would later become very popular for other artists as well. Mona Bone Jakon was followed by his international breakthrough album, Tea for the Tillerman, which became a top-10 Billboard hit and reached Gold record status within six months of release (at least 500,000 sales) in the United States and in Britain, combining Stevens’ new folk style with accessible lyrics that spoke of everyday situations and problems, mixed with some spiritual imagery. Tea for the Tillerman features the top-20 single “Wild World”, “Hard-Headed Woman”, and “Father and Son”, a unique, double-voiced autobiographical song. In 2001, this album was certified by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) as a Multi-Platinum record, meaning it had sold 3 million copies in the United States at that time. It is included at #206 in Rolling Stone’s 2003 listing of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. With the success of Tea for the Tillerman, Stevens was no longer opening for other acts on tour. He launched his own tour and became a star. During this period, he was romantically linked to singer Carly Simon whose top 50 songs “Legend in Your Own Time” and “Anticipation” were written about Stevens.
Having established a signature sound, Stevens enjoyed a string of successes over the following years. 1971’s Teaser and the Firecat reached number two and achieved gold record status within three weeks of its release in the US. It yielded several hits, including “Peace Train”, “Morning Has Broken” (a Christian hymn with lyrics by Eleanor Farjeon), and “Moon Shadow”. This album was also certified by the RIAA as a Multi-Platinum record in 2001, with over three million US sales up until then. When interviewed on a Boston radio station, Stevens said about Teaser:
Also in 1971, several of his songs were used in the soundtrack to the movie Harold and Maude, including at least one that had not been on any album prior to its inclusion on a second “greatest hits” collection many years later. Harold and Maude would go on to become a cult hit, popular for decades, bringing Stevens’ music to a wide audience, long after he stopped recording. His next album, Catch Bull at Four, released in 1972, was his most rapidly successful album in the U.S.A – reaching Gold record status in 15 days, and holding the number-one position on the Billboard charts for three weeks. This album continued the introspective and spiritual lyrics that he was known for, combined with a rougher-edged voice and a less acoustic sound than his previous records. “Sweet Scarlet” was his response to Carly Simon’s two songs about him. The single “Sitting” was released from this album, and charted at #16. Catch Bull at Four was Platinum certified in 2001. Subsequent releases in the 1970s also did well on the charts and in ongoing sales. His final album under the name Cat Stevens was Back to Earth, released in late 1978. Several compilation albums were released before and after he stopped recording. The most successful was the 1975 Greatest Hits which has sold over 4 million copies in the United States. In May 2003 he received his first Platinum Europe Award from the IFPI for Remember Cat Stevens, The Ultimate Collection, indicating over one million European sales. In 1977, Stevens secured his last chart hit with “(Remember The Days Of The) Old Schoolyard”, a duet with fellow UK singer Elkie Brooks, although she remains uncredited on the release. His last performance before his subsequent return to music was at The Year of the Child concert in Wembley Stadium, on November 22, 1979.
When Stevens nearly drowned in an accident in Malibu in 1975, he reports having pleaded with God to save him. Stevens described the event in a VH1 interview some years later: “I suddenly held myself and I said, ‘Oh God! If you save me, I’ll work for you.'” The near-death experience intensified his long-held quest for spiritual truth. He had looked into Buddhism “Zen and I Ching, numerology, tarot cards and astrology”, but when his brother David gave him a copy of the Qur’an, Stevens began to find peace with himself and began his transition to Islam. He formally converted to the Islamic faith in 1977 and took the name Yusuf Islam in 1978, saying that he “always loved the name Joseph” and was particularly drawn to the story of Joseph in the Qur’an. (Yusuf is the Arabic version of the name Joseph.)
Following his conversion, Yusuf Islam abandoned his career as a pop star. Song and the use of musical instruments is an area of debate in Muslim jurisprudence, considered harām by some, and this is the primary reason he gave for retreating from the pop spotlight. He decided to use his accumulated wealth and continuing earnings from his music career on philanthropic and educational causes in the Muslim community of London and elsewhere. In 1981, he founded the Islamia Primary School in Salusbury Road in the north London area of Kilburn; after that, he founded several Muslim secondary schools and devoted his energy to providing an Islamic education to children and to charitable causes. He founded, and is chairman of, the Small Kindness charity, which initially assisted famine victims in Africa and now supports thousands of orphans and families in the Balkans, Indonesia, and Iraq. He also was chairman of the charity Muslim Aid from 1985 to 1993. In 1985, Yusuf Islam decided to return to the public spotlight, for the first time since his religious conversion, at the historic Live Aid concert, inspired by the famine threatening Ethiopia. Though he had written a song especially for the occasion, his appearance was skipped when Elton John’s set ran too long.
In March 2006, Yusuf Islam finished recording his first all-new pop album since 1978. The album, An Other Cup, was released internationally in November 2006 on his own label, Ya Records (distributed by Polydor Records in the UK and internationally by Atlantic Records) — the 40th anniversary of his first album, Matthew and Son. A single was simultaneously released from the album, called “Heaven/Where True Love Goes”. The album was produced with Rick Nowels, who has worked with Dido and Rod Stewart. The performer is noted as “Yusuf”, with a cover label identifying him as “the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens”. The art on the album is credited to Yoriyos. Yusuf Islam wrote all of the songs except “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, and recorded it in the United States and the United Kingdom. Yusuf actively promoted this album, appearing on radio and television and in print interviews. He was interviewed by the BBC in November 2006, “It’s me, so it’s going to sound like that of course … This is the real thing… . When my son brought the guitar back into the house, you know, that was the turning point. It opened a flood of, of new ideas and music which I think a lot of people would connect with.” Asked in a November 2006 Billboard magazine interview about why the artist is credited as “Yusuf” rather than “Yusuf Islam”, he said, “Because ‘Islam’ doesn’t have to be sloganized. The second name is like the official tag, but you call a friend by their first name. It’s more intimate, and to me that’s the message of this record.” As for why the sleeve says “the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens”, he responded, “That’s the tag with which most people are familiar; for recognition purposes I’m not averse to that. For a lot of people, it reminds them of something they want to hold on to. That name is part of my history and a lot of the things I dreamt about as Cat Stevens have come true as Yusuf Islam.” On CBS Sunday Morning in December 2006, Yusuf Islam said, “You know, the cup is there to be filled … with whatever you want to fill it with. For those people looking for Cat Stevens, they’ll probably find him in this record. If you want to find Yusuf, go a bit deeper, you’ll find him.”
as Cat Stevens:
New Masters (Decca Records, 1967)
Mona Bone Jakon (Island Records, 1970)
Tea for the Tillerman (Island Records, 1970)
Teaser and the Firecat (Island Records, 1971)
Foreigner (Island Records, 1973)
Buddha and the Chocolate Box (Island Records, 1974)
Numbers – A Pythagorean Theory Tale (Island Records, 1975)
Numbers (Island Records, 1976)
Remember Cat Stevens: Ultimate Collection (Island Records, 1999)
Sad Lisa (Universe Records, 2001)
as Yusuf Islam:
An Other Cup (Ya Records, 2006)
Roadsinger (Island Records, 2009)
Tell ‘Em I’m Gone (Legacy Recordings, 2014)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Official Homepage: www.catstevens.com and www.yusufislam.com