Cat Stevens

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Performers and composers

Cat Stevens
(now Yusuf Islam)

Born: July 21, 1948 (age 58)
London, England
Occupation: Singer, musician and songwriter

Cat Stevens (born Steven Demetre Georgiou on July 21, 1948), now known as Yusuf Islam or simply Yusuf, is a well-known English musician, singer-songwriter and a prominent convert to Islam.

At the outset of his musical career, Georgiou adopted the stage name Cat Stevens; under this moniker, he sold over 60 million albums, mostly in the 1970s. His most notable songs include " Morning Has Broken", " Peace Train", " Moonshadow", " Wild World", " Father and Son", " If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out", " The First Cut Is the Deepest", and " Trouble".

Stevens became a convert to Islam in 1977, after a near-death experience. He adopted the name Yusuf Islam in 1979, and became a pious advocate for the religion, devoting himself to educational and philanthropic causes in his community. A decade later, controversy arose when he was reported to have made comments that seemed to support a fatwa calling for the death of author Salman Rushdie, but he claimed to have been misinterpreted. He publicly and vehemently condemned the September 11 attacks, saying they were not consonant with the teachings of the religion of Islam, and mourned the loss of life. In 2004, he returned to the public eye when he was denied entry into the United States after his name appeared on a no-fly list. He successfully sued British newspapers for libel because of their reports on this incident.

Yusuf Islam currently lives with his wife and children in London, where he is an active member of the Muslim community, and spends part of each year in Dubai. 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. Islam also founded the charity Muslim Aid, in 2004 he was given the Man for Peace award for promoting international social justice and peace.

Yusuf Islam released a new record album in November, 2006 entitled An Other Cup, his first pop album of new songs in 28 years.

Early life (1948 - 1965)

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 section of London. All of the family, including Steven, worked in the restaurant.

Although his father was Greek Orthodox, Georgiou was sent to a Catholic school, St. Joseph Roman Catholic Primary School in Macklin Street.

When Georgiou was about eight years old, his parents divorced, although they both continued to live above the restaurant. Later, his mother moved back to Gävle, Sweden and took him with her. It was there that he started developing his drawing skills, influenced by his uncle Hugo, a painter.

At age 16, he left high school and was accepted, then later dismissed from, Hammersmith Art School. It was during this period he was first influenced by folk music.

Musical Career (1966 - 1977)

Early musical career

At age 18 in 1966, eager to establish a music career, Georgiou sought the help of manager/producer Mike Hurst. Hurst enjoyed Georgiou's songs and had a friend financially support his first single, "I Love My Dog". Over the next two years, Georgiou toured with moderate success and placed several single releases in the British pop music charts under the name "Cat Stevens". His debut album was Matthew and Son which was released in 1966. At the end of 1967, Stevens released New Masters which failed to chart in the United Kingdom; the album is now most notable for " The First Cut Is the Deepest" which has become an international hit for P.P. Arnold, Rod Stewart and Sheryl Crow.

On August 14, 1967, he joined with other recording artists on the airwaves of Wonderful Radio London bemoaning the loss of the pirate radio station which had helped create his first hit record.

In early 1968, at the age of nineteen, Stevens contracted tuberculosis. After several months in the hospital and a year of convalescence, Stevens returned to recording, but his attempts at a comeback single were poorly received.

Comeback after tuberculosis

In 1970, Stevens signed with Island Records (then-rival A&M Records in North America), and released Mona Bone Jakon, an introspective, folk music-based album that was markedly different from his earlier work. The album featured the songs "Lady D'Arbanville" that was written for Stevens' girlfriend at the time, actress Patti D'Arbanville; "Pop Star" that commented on his mixed success as a '60s teen hitmaker; and "Katmandu", featuring Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel playing flute.

The album presaged the coming singer-songwriter boom and set the stage for Stevens' international breakthrough album, Tea for the Tillerman. Tillerman combined a brighter sound and subject matter with Stevens' new folk style, and became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, highlighted by the top-10 single " Wild World".

Having established a signature sound, Stevens enjoyed a string of successes over the following years. The Teaser and the Firecat LP album (1971) reached #2 in the US and yielded several hits, including " Peace Train", "Morning Has Broken" (featuring Yes's Rick Wakeman on piano), and "Moonshadow". 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.

Subsequent releases in the 1970s were consistently successful; the final album under the name Cat Stevens was Back to Earth, released in late 1978. His farewell concert as Cat Stevens took place in Wembley Stadium, on November 22, 1979.

Conversion to Islam

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; 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 he legally changed his name to Yusuf Islam

Life as Yusuf Islam (1978 - present)

Muslim Faith and Musical Career

Following his conversion, Yusuf Islam abandoned his career as a pop star. Song and the use of musical instruments is an area of debate (considered prohibited Haram by some) in Muslim jurisprudence and is the primary reason he gave for retreating from the pop spotlight. At one point he wrote to the record companies asking that his music no longer be distributed, but his request was denied.

In 1981 Islam founded the Islamia Primary School in Salusbury Road in the north London area of Kilburn; after that he founded several secondary schools, and devoted his energy to providing an Islamic education to children and to charitable causes.

In 1985, 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.

Salman Rushdie controversy

On February 21, 1989 Yusuf Islam addressed students at Kingston University in London about his journey to Islam. He was asked about the controversy in the Muslim world and the fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie's execution. Islam claims to have only stated the legal consequences from the Qur'an - that blasphemy is a capital offense - and not actually have made any claims of support for the fatwa. Newspapers quickly denounced Yusuf Islam's "support" for a possible assassination of Rushdie. The next day he released a statement saying that he was not personally encouraging anybody towards vigilantism.

However, the New York Times reported on May 23, 1989 that Yusuf Islam was to be on a British television courtroom-style program, "A Satanic Scenario," the following week, and was quoted as saying:

[that rather than go to a demonstration to burn an effigy of the author Salman Rushdie,] I would have hoped that it'd be the real thing.

[If Rushdie turned up at my doorstep looking for help,] I might ring somebody who might do more damage to him than he would like. I'd try to phone the Ayatollah Khomeini and tell him exactly where this man is.

On March 8 1989, while speaking in London's Regents Park Mosque, when asked by a Christian Science Monitor reporter how he would "cope with the idea of killing a writer for writing a book" he is reported to have replied:

In Islam there is a line between let's say freedom and the line which is then transgressed into immorality and irresponsibility and I think as far as this writer is concerned, unfortunately, he has been irresponsible with his freedom of speech. Salman Rushdie or indeed any writer who abuses the prophet, or indeed any prophet, under Islamic law, the sentence for that is actually death. It's got to be seen as a deterrent, so that other people should not commit the same mistake again.

He added that if Rushdie should manage to escape the death sentence he would still have to "face God on the day of judgement."

Cat Stevens has never retracted his statements about Rushdie, but, in a 2000 Rolling Stone interview, he was asked to explain his position on the fatwa controversy and said:

I'm very sad that this seems to be the No. 1 question people want to discuss. I had nothing to do with the issue other than what the media created. I was innocently drawn into the whole controversy. So, after many years, I'm glad at least now that I have been given the opportunity to explain to the public and fans my side of the story in my own words. At a lecture, back in 1989, I was asked a question about blasphemy according to Islamic Law, I simply repeated the legal view according to my limited knowledge of the Scriptural texts, based directly on historical commentaries of the Qur'an. The next day the newspaper headlines read, "Cat Says, Kill Rushdie." I was abhorred, but what could I do? I was a new Muslim. If you ask a Bible student to quote the legal punishment of a person who commits blasphemy in the Bible, he would be dishonest if he didn't mention Leviticus 24:16.

The backlash over the Rushdie incident included the band 10,000 Maniacs, who had covered "Peace Train" on their 1987 In My Tribe album. The band deleted the song from subsequent pressings of their album as a protest against the remarks he made.

September 11

Yusuf Islam immediately and vehemently spoke out against the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States, saying:

"I wish to express my heartfelt horror at the indiscriminate terrorist attacks committed against innocent people of the United States yesterday. While it is still not clear who carried out the attack, it must be stated that no right thinking follower of Islam could possibly condone such an action: The Qur'an equates the murder of one innocent person with the murder of the whole of humanity. We pray for the families of all those who lost their lives in this unthinkable act of violence as well as all those injured; I hope to reflect the feelings of all Muslims and people around the world whose sympathies go out to the victims of this sorrowful moment."

He appeared on videotape on a VH-1 pre-show for the October 2001 Concert for New York City condemning the attacks and singing an a cappella version of his song Peace Train for the first time in public in more than twenty years. He also donated half of his box-set royalties to the September 11 Fund for victims' families, and the other half to orphans in underdeveloped countries.

Denial of entry into the United States

On 21 September 2004 Yusuf Islam was traveling on United Airlines Flight 919 from London to Washington, en route to a meeting with singer Dolly Parton who had recorded a cover of " Peace Train" several years earlier and was planning to include another Cat Stevens song on an upcoming album. While the plane was in flight, the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System flagged his name as being on a no-fly list. Customs agents alerted the Transportation Security Administration, which then diverted his flight to Bangor, Maine, where he was detained by the FBI.

The following day Islam was deported back to the United Kingdom. The United States Transportation Security Administration claimed there were "concerns of ties he may have to potential terrorist-related activities." The United States Department of Homeland Security specifically alleged that Islam had provided funding to the Palestinian Islamic militant group Hamas, although it did not offer any proof of its allegation, nor has any turned up.

Islam's deportation provoked a small international controversy and led British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to complain personally to Secretary of State Colin Powell at the United Nations. Powell responded by stating that the watch list was under review, and added, "I think we have that obligation to review these matters to see if we are right."

Yusuf Islam believes his inclusion on the watch list may have simply been an error, a mistaken identification of him for a man with the same name, different spelling. On 1 October 2004 Islam was reported to have requested the removal of his name and stated, "I remain bewildered by the decision of the US authorities to refuse me entry to the United States." According to a statement by Islam, the man on the list was named "Youssef Islam", indicating that Yusuf Islam himself was not the suspected terror supporter.

Libel case victory

As a footnote to the actions taken by the U.S. government in deporting Yusuf Islam as a suspected terrorist, The Sun and The Sunday Times British newspapers had published reports in October 2004 which stated that the U.S. was correct in its action. As a result Yusuf Islam sued for libel, and received a substantial out-of-court, "agreed settlement" and apology from the newspapers. Both newspapers acknowledged that Yusuf Islam has never supported terrorism and that, to the contrary, he had recently been given a Man for Peace award from the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. Islam responded that he was:

...delighted by the settlement [which] helps vindicate my character and good name. ... It seems to be the easiest thing in the world these days to make scurrilous accusations against Muslims, and in my case it directly impacts on my relief work and damages my reputation as an artist. The harm done is often difficult to repair.

He added that he intended to donate the financial award given to him by the court to help orphans of the recent tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Yusuf Islam wrote about the experience in a newspaper article titled "A Cat in a Wild World".

Return to music

For several years during the 1990s, Yusuf Islam made recordings featuring lyrics about Islamic themes accompanied only by basic percussion instruments, which he felt were acceptable to his faith. He also produced an album called A is for Allah as an instruction for children after realizing there were few materials designed to educate children about the Islamic religion. He later established the record label called Mountain of Light Productions that donates a percentage of its proceeds to Islam's Small Kindness charity.

In 2003, after repeated encouragement from within the Muslim world, Yusuf Islam once again recorded the song "Peace Train" for a compilation CD which also included performances by David Bowie and Paul McCartney.

He performed ""Wild World"" in Nelson Mandela's 46664 Concert with his former session player Peter Gabriel, for which he both performed and recorded in the English language for the first time in twenty-five years. Islam explained that the reason why he had stopped performing in English was due to his own misunderstanding of the Islamic faith:

This issue of music in Islam is not as cut-and-dried as I was led to believe ... I relied on heresy [sic], that was perhaps my mistake.

In a separate press release, Islam explains his revived recording career:

After I embraced Islam many people told me to carry on composing and recording but at the time I was hesitant for fear that it might be for the wrong reasons. I felt unsure what the right course of action was. I guess it is only now after all these years that I've come to fully understand and appreciate what everyone has been asking of me. It's as if I've come full circle - however, I have gathered a lot of knowledge on the subject in the meantime.

In December 2004, he and Ronan Keating released a new version of "Father and Son". It debuted at number two, behind Band Aid 20's " Do They Know It's Christmas?". The proceeds of "Father and Son" were donated to the Band Aid charity. Keating's former group, Boyzone, had also had a hit with a cover version of the song a decade earlier.

In early 2005, Islam released a new song entitled "Indian Ocean" about the 2004 tsunami disaster. The song featured Indian composer/producer A. R. Rahman; A-ha keyboard player, Magne Furuholmen and Travis drummer, Neil Primrose. Proceeds of the single went to help orphans in Banda Aceh, one of the areas worst affected by the tsunami, through Islam's Small Kindness charity. At first, the single was only released through several online music stores but now highlights the compilation album Cat Stevens: Gold.

On 28 May 2005 Yusuf Islam delivered a keynote speech and performed at the Adopt-A-Minefield Gala in Düsseldorf. The Adopt-A-Minefield charity, under the patronage of Sir Paul McCartney, works internationally to raise awareness and funds to clear landmines and rehabilitate landmine survivors. Yusuf Islam attended as part of an honorary committee – which also included Sir George Martin, Sir Richard Branson, Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Klaus Voormann, Christopher Lee and others.

In mid-2005, Yusuf Islam played guitar for the Dolly Parton album of cover songs entitled, Those Were The Days, on her version of "Where Do The Children Play".

In 2006, the Cat Stevens' song Tea for The Tillerman was used as the theme tune for the Ricky Gervais sitcom Extras.

In May 2006, in anticipation of his forthcoming new pop album, the BBC1 programme "Imagine" aired a 49-minute documentary with Alan Yentob called Yusuf: The Artist formerly Known as Cat Stevens. This documentary film features rare audio and video clips from the late 1960s and 1970s, as well as an extensive interview with Yusuf Islam, his brother, several record executives, Bob Geldof, Dolly Parton, and others outlining his career as Cat Stevens, his conversion and emergence as Yusuf Islam, and his return to music in 2006. There are clips of him singing in the studio when he was recording An Other Cup as well as a few excerpts of him on guitar, today, singing a few verses of old Cat Stevens songs including "The Wind" and "On the Road to Find Out".

An Other Cup

In March 2006, Billboard magazine reported Yusuf Islam had finished recording his first all new pop album since 1978. The album, An Other Cup, was released on November 13, 2006 in the UK by Polydor Records and internationally (in the US on November 14, 2006) by Atlantic Records—the 40th anniversary of his first album, Matthew and Son. The album has been produced with Rick Nowels, who has worked with Dido and Rod Stewart and the artist is listed as "Yusuf". Speaking about the album, David Joseph, co-president of Polydor, said:

Yusuf is one of the most unique artists the UK has ever produced. The new album is sensational and will prove to be one of the biggest musical highlights of the year. His voice and melody are totally timeless.

Yusuf Islam wrote all of the songs except Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, and recorded it in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

A single was simultaneously released from the album, called "Heaven/Where True Love Goes".

Yusuf was interviewed by the BBC regarding this record and is quoted as saying, "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."

In November 2006, Yusuf Islam was interviewed and performed two songs from his new album on the BBC2 programme Later... with Jools Holland: "Midday (Avoid City After Dark)" and "I Think I See The Light"; he closed the show with a rendition of "Peace Train".

  • "Midday (Avoid City After Dark)" on YouTube
  • "I Think I See The Light" on YouTube
  • "Peace Train" on YouTube


Cat Stevens was nominated to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, but not voted in.

On 10 November 2004, Yusuf Islam was presented with a Man for Peace award by the private foundation of former USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev, for his 'dedication to promote peace, the reconciliation of people and to condemn terrorism'; the ceremony was held in Rome, Italy and attended by five Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Almost a year later, on 4 November 2005, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Gloucestershire for services to education and humanitarian relief.

On 20 October 2005, Yusuf Islam was named ASCAP's Songwriter of the Year, and also received Song of the Year honours for " The First Cut Is The Deepest", at a special presentation in London. At the ceremony, The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers ( ASCAP) honored the top British writer and publisher members of the UK's Performing Rights Society.

On 11 October 2006, Yusuf Islam was named Songwriter of the Year for the second year running, and also received another award for the same song " The First Cut Is The Deepest", at a special presentation in London. At the ceremony, The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers ( ASCAP) honored the top British writer and publisher members of the UK's Performing Rights Society..

Discography (albums)

As Cat Stevens

  • Matthew and Son (1967)
  • New Masters (1967)
  • Mona Bone Jakon (1970)
  • Tea for the Tillerman (1970)
  • Teaser and the Firecat (1971)
  • Catch Bull at Four (1972)
  • Foreigner (1973)
  • Buddha and the Chocolate Box (1974)
  • Saturnight (Live in Tokyo) (1974)
  • Numbers (1975)
  • Izitso (1977)
  • Back to Earth (1978)
  • Footsteps in the Dark: Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1984)
  • Majikat (2005)
  • Gold (2005 compilation)
  • And many other anthologies and compilations.

A box set containing many rarities and live tracks was released in 2001.

As Yusuf Islam

  • The Life of the Last Prophet (1995)
  • I Have No Cannons that Roar (1998)
  • Prayers of the Last Prophet (1999)
  • A is for Allah (2000)
  • I Look I See (2003)
  • Indian Ocean (2005)
  • An Other Cup (2006)

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