Cat Stevens 65th Birthday Tribute

In honor of Cat Steven’s 65th birthday Rosemary Welsh of the Afternoon Mix joins Cindy to discuss the life and music of Cat Stevens.

Cat Stevens aka Yusuf Islam is an acclaimed singer-songwriter, multi- instrumentalist, humanitarian, education philanthropist, and prominent covert to Islam.  Cat Stevens is a man of multiple ethnic backgrounds, he grew up in London, his mother is Swedish and his father is Greek.  Stevens was marketed early, he recorded his first song as a teenager, “I Love My Dog” which hit #28 on the UK’s Pirate Radio.   Stevens’ next recording, “Matthew and Son” hit #2 on the same chart, it was after that when Deram Records made Stevens their first signee.

In his early twenties, the rock and roll lifestyle caught up to Stevens.  Stevens’ developed a case of tuberculosis and his lung collapsed, so he had to take nearly a year off.  When Stevens did make his return to the public eye his music became more spiritual.  “When he came back his music had changed and it had become what ended up being very successful for him.   It was the more spiritual stuff.  It was more inward looking and he started writing songs that became huge hits like “Wild World,” “Hard Headed Woman,” and “Father and Son.” That really came of the experience of him nearly dying,” adds Welsh.

Before he became a full Islamic convert and became known as Yusuf Islam, it took another near death experience for Cat Stevens change his religion.  Prior to his second near death experience, Stevens went to Marrakech where he was introduced to the “music of God” and the Islamic religion.  Shortly after this Stevens nearly drowned to death in a riptide off the Malibu Coast.  Stevens’ claims he called out to God during this moment and the tide turned.  Again Stevens recognized a near death experience as a message and he converted to Islam in December of 1977.  It was after this that the music industry had lost its appeal to him.

Stevens received a lot of flack for his 1989 speech at a United Kingdom university where he tried to explain Islamic law for blasphemy.  After this speech it got out that Stevens’ backed the fatwa, the Islamic death sentence.   Stevens claimed his words were taken out of context.

In 2004, Stevens was denied entry into the US and was put on a watch list by Homeland Security.  “What you see in 2004 is he was honored with a Man of Peace Award by a committee of the Nobel Peace laureates.  He’s a guy who has always worked hard to try to get a better understanding of what Islam really is about from his point of view, which is a peaceful religion,” states Welsh.

For a while it seemed like Cat Stevens was trying to get away from the “Cat Stevens image.”   As of late it seems that Stevens has learned to embrace this music of rock and roll and see it as a separate entity than lifestyle paired with it.  “He was really disgusted with the whole rock and roll life.  Now he has a son that’s starting to go into music and he had to struggle with that. And I think that forced him to kind of look at it [rock and roll lifestyle] and say it really comes down to the individual and how you approach it,” adds Welsh.  Cat Stevens has lived a fulfilling 65 years and we hope he continues to grace us with his presence and music.