Yusuf Islam (born Steven Demetre Georgiou; 21 July 1948), commonly known by his former stage name Cat Stevens, is a British singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, humanitarian, and education philanthropist.
Stevens’s 1967 debut album reached the top 10 in the UK, and the album’s title song “Matthew and Son” charted at number 2 on the UK Singles Chart.
Although his father was Greek Orthodox and his mother a Swedish Baptist, Georgiou was sent to St. Joseph Roman Catholic Primary School, Macklin Street, which was closer to his father’s business on Drury Lane.
Georgiou developed an interest in piano at a fairly young age, eventually using the family baby grand piano to work out the chords, since no one else there played well enough to teach him.
Inspired by the popularity of The Beatles, at 15 he extended his interest to the guitar, persuaded his father to pay £8 for his first instrument, and began playing it and writing songs.
He would escape at times from his family responsibilities to the rooftop above their home, and listen to the tunes of the musicals drifting from just around the corner from Denmark Street, which was then the centre of the British music industry.
Later, Stevens has emphasized that the advent of West Side Story in particular affected him, giving him a “different view of life”.
With interests in both art and music, he and his mother moved to Gavle, Sweden, where he attended primary school (Solangsskolan) and started developing his drawing skills after being influenced by his uncle Hugo Wickman, a painter. They subsequently returned to England.
Over the next two years, Stevens recorded and toured with an eclectic group of artists ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Engelbert Humperdinck. Stevens was considered a fresh-faced teen star, 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 gained him fans by playing his records. In August 1967, he went on the air with other recording artists who had benefited from the station to mourn its closure.
Stevens’ career then came to a standstill when he contracted a near-fatal case of tuberculosis in late 1968 and was confined to a hospital for a year.
He took that time to work on his new material, which was unveiled in Mona Bone Jakon, a critical success that yielded a British hit single in “Lady D’Arbanville” (Number Eight U.K., 1970) (purportedly about the actress Patti D’Arbanville).
The muted accompaniment was by flutist Peter Gabriel (who would soon find his own fame in Genesis), percussionist Harvey Burns, and perennial Stevens’s collaborator guitarist Alun Davies.
In 1975 Stevens began studying the Koran and later converted to the Muslim religion. In late 1981 the rechristened Stevens announced, “I’m no longer seeking applause and fame,” and auctioned off all his material possessions, including his gold records.
By then he had married Fouzia Ali; as of the late 1980s, they had five children, and he was running a Muslim school outside London. In 1987 10,000 Maniacs covered “Peace Train,” and the following year Maxi Priest hit the U.K. Top Ten with a version of “Wild World.”
What might have grown into a Stevens revival, however, was nipped in 1989, when the media reported that the singer allegedly supported Iran’s death-sentence condemnation of Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie, whose book had supposedly blasphemed the Muslim faith (Stevens claims he was misinterpreted).