Name originally Steven Demetri Georgiou (name changed to Yusuf Islam; one source says Yusef, another, Yusaf), born July 31, 1948, in London, England; married; children: four daughters, one son. Education: attended Hammersmith College of Art. Religion: Islam. Addresses: Home --London, England. Record company --A&M Records, 1416 N. La Brea, Los Angeles, Calif. 90028.
Singer-songwriter Cat Stevens has gone through many changes during the course of his career. Beginning as a British teen idol in the late 1960s, he eventually rose to great heights of popular and critical acclaim as a folk artist in the 1970s. Then, while still enjoying a large following of music fans, Stevens converted to Islam and stopped putting out records to devote himself to his new religion. He took the name Yusuf Islam, and eventually rid himself of all vestiges of his secular career, giving away his guitars and the many gold records he had earned.
Stevens was born Steven Georgiou to Greek immigrant parents, July 21, 1948, in London, England. Interested in music from an early age, he preferred the stirring songs of his parents' native country as a child, but in his adolescence became more attracted to the rock and roll music his friends enjoyed. By the time Stevens had graduated from secondary school and was attending the Hammersmith College of Art, he was also performing in small clubs in London. He had gathered a fairly large following, and eventually a professional manager became interested in the young man's talent. Shortly afterwards, Stevens's first demo tape garnered him a recording contract with Decca in England.
Decca saw Stevens as a pop artist, and wanted him to record teen-oriented songs. Perhaps because of his youth, the singer-songwriter at first had no trouble complying. His first album, Matthew and Son, was released in 1967, and the title track became a British hit. More successes, including "I Love My Dog" and "The First Cut Is the Deepest," followed, and he toured England, Belgium, and France. But Stevens became dissatisfied with his material, and tried to get Decca to record some more mature tunes that he had written. When they refused, he grew more depressed about his career. He later told Mark F. Zeller in Rolling Stone that during this period, "in order to get onstage, I used to have to drink. To get drunk." Stevens also neglected his health in other ways, and in late 1968 had to be hospitalized for three months with tuberculosis.
By the time Stevens was well enough to leave the hospital, he had decided to drop out of the music scene for a while. He reemerged with a more mature, folk-oriented style, his instrumentation was more spare, and his appearance drastically changed--the cleanshaven teen idol now had long hair and a bushy beard. The album he recorded in 1970, Mona Bone Jakon, received a great deal of critical acclaim and brought Stevens to the attention of music fans in the United States. The follow-up, 1970's Tea for the Tillerman, became his first gold album, and included the classics "Wild World," "Father and Son," and "Miles from Nowhere." His popularity was further increased in that year by a live radio concert in Los Angeles, California, which prompted Los Angeles Times critic Robert Hilburn to hail Stevens as "an exceptional singer and artist whose highly distinctive voice has the rare ability to combine the strength, fragility, and sometimes mystery of his highly personal compositions."
Stevens's success continued throughout the 1970s, and he racked up gold album after gold album. Teaser and the Firecat, his 1971 effort, had on it three songs that are perhaps his most famous--"Moonshadow," "Morning Has Broken," and "Peace Train." In 1972, Catch Bull at Four yielded the hit "Sitting"; 1974's Buddah and the Chocolate Box brought forth "Oh, Very Young" and a remake of the Sam Cooke smash, "Another Saturday Night." But the latter album began a period of slight critical disfavor for Stevens--many reviewers felt it and his subsequent albums did not measure up to his earlier work. He was still supported by his fans, however, and his hits during the late 1970s included "Ready," "Two Fine People," and his last big-selling single, "Old School Yard."
But as early as the mid-1970s, forces were at work in Stevens's personal life which foreshadowed a drastic turn-about. According to Zeller, he nearly drowned while swimming at a California beach. Struggling against the undertow, Stevens made a promise to serve God if his life was spared. He told Zeller: "Immediately, a wave came from behind and pushed me forward. All of a sudden, I was swimming back." Then, shortly afterwards, his older brother gave him a copy of the Koran--the holy scriptures of the Islamic faith--to read. By 1977, Stevens went public with his conversion to Islam and his decision to stop recording secular music; however, A&M, his record company, had enough of his material stored up to release a final album, Back to Earth, in 1978.
When last heard from, Stevens, or Yusuf Islam, as he now prefers to be called, was running a Muslim school for children in London, England. There, he uses his musical talents to write religious songs and poems for the pupils. Though in 1984 he emphatically denied rumors that he was living in Iran as a follower of the late Ayatollah Khomeini and that he was studying to become an Ayatollah himself, he resurfaced as the object of controversy in 1989 when he came out in support of the late Ayatollah's death threats to author Salman Rushdie, whom he considers to have defamed the Islamic religion with his book, The Satanic Verses. Reportedly, Yusuf Islam is still considering recording again, though his albums would most likely be expressions of his faith aimed primarily at children. "He believes his mission is to teach others to accept his religion," explained Zeller.
by Elizabeth Thomas
Cat Stevens's Career
Recording artist and concert performer, c. 1967-1977. Runs a Muslim school in London, England. Provided songs for the film Harold and Maude.
Cat Stevens's Awards
Several gold albums.
- Matthew and Son (includes "Matthew and Son"), Decca, 1967.
- New Masters Decca, 1968.
- Mona Bone Jakon (includes "Mona Bone Jakon," "I Think I See the Light," "Lady D'Arbaville," "Fill My Eyes," and "Lilywhite"), A&M, 1970.
- Tea for the Tillerman (includes "Tea for the Tillerman," "Sad Lisa," "Longer Boats," "Father and Son," "Wild World," and "Miles from Nowhere"), A&M, 1970.
- Teaser and the Firecat (includes "Moonshadow," "Morning Has Broken," and "Peace Train"), A&M, 1971.
- Catch Bull at Four (includes "Sitting"), A&M, 1972.
- Foreigner A&M, 1973.
- Buddah and the Chocolate Box (includes "Oh, Very Young" and "Another Saturday Night"), A&M, 1974.
- Greatest Hits (includes "Ready" and "Two Fine People"), A&M, 1975.
- Numbers A&M, 1975.
- Izitso (includes "Old School Yard" and "Is a Dog a Doughnut"), A&M, 1977.
- Back to Earth A&M, 1978.
- Also released singles, "I Love My Dog" and "The First Cut is the Deepest," Decca, c. 1968.
September 22, 2004: Stevens was barred from entering the United States after his name appeared on a government watch list. His plane was diverted en route from London to Washington and he was taken into custody by federal agents in Maine. Source: Associated Press, http://customwire.ap.org, September 22, 2004.
November 11, 2004: Georgiou received the Man for Peace Prize at a ceremony in Rome, Italy, during a meeting of Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Source: Associated Press, http://customwire.ap.org, November 11, 2004.
February 16, 2005: Islam won damages from two British newspapers, The Sun and The Sunday Times, both of which suggested that the U.S. government was right to refuse him entry into the country because his named appeared on a terrorist watch list. Islam will donate the money to the victims of the Asian tsunami. Source: New York Times, www.nytimes.com, February 16, 2005.
- Los Angeles Times, June 8, 1971.
- Rolling Stone, August 25, 1988.
- Variety, March 15, 1989.