(born Steven Demetre Georgiou on
July 21 1948), now known as Yusuf Islam, is a well-known
British musician, singer-songwriter and a prominent convert
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", "Matthew and Son", "The
First Cut Is the Deepest", and "Oh Very Young".
became a convert to Islam in 1977, after a near-death
experience. He adopted the name Yusuf Islam in 1979, and
became an outspoken advocate for the religion. A decade
later, controversy arose when he was reported to have made
comments supporting a fatwa calling for the murder of author
Salman Rushdie, and in 2004, returned to the public eye when
he was denied entry into the United States after his name
appeared on a no-fly list.
Islam currently lives with his wife and children in London,
where he is an active member of the Muslim community. 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, but left as founding Chairman in 1999.
late, Yusuf Islam is scheduled to release a new pop album in
November 2006 entitled "An Other Cup". This would be his
first pop album in 28 years.
Early life and career
Georgiou was the third child of a Greek-Cypriot father (Stavros
Georgiou) and a Swedish mother (Ingrid Wickman). The family
lived above the restaurant that his parents operated on
a few steps from Piccadilly Circus and Soho.
Although his father was Greek Orthodox, Georgiou was sent to
a Catholic school, St. Joseph Roman
Catholic Primary School in Macklin Street.
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, due to the influence of his uncle Hugo (a
16, he left high school and was accepted, then later
Hammersmith Art School.
It was during this period he was first influenced by folk
Early musical career
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
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.
August 14 1967, his voice 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.
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
1970, Stevens signed with Island Records 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.
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".
established a signature sound, Stevens enjoyed a string of
successes over the following years. Teaser and the
Firecat (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
Subsequent releases throughout the 1970s were met with
consistent success; the final album under the name Cat
Stevens was Back to Earth, released in late 1978.
Conversion and life as Yusuf Islam
Stevens nearly drowned in an accident in
in 1975, he 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.
Muslim faith and musical career
Following his conversion, Islam abandoned his career as a
pop star. Song and the use of musical instruments is an area
of debate (considered prohibited by Haram) in Muslim
jurisprudence (law) and is the primary reason Cat Stevens
retreated 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.
Primary School in
Road in the north London area of Kilburn.
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
Though he had written a song especially for the occasion,
his appearance was skipped when
Elton John's set ran too
Current musical career
several years during the 1990s, he made recordings featuring
Islamic lyrics accompanied only by basic percussion
instruments in his compositions. 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
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.
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:
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
separate press release, Islam rationalises his revived
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.
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.
early 2005, Islam released a new song entitled "Indian Ocean"
about the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. 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
Cat Stevens: Gold.
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 and Heather Mills 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.
mid-2005, Yusuf Islam played guitar for the
album of cover songs entitled, "Those Were The Days", on her
version of "Where Do The Children Play". Parton herself had
recorded a cover of "Peace Train" a few years earlier.
March 2006, Billboard magazine reported Yusuf Islam had
finished recording his first pop album since 1978. The
album, An Other Cup, will be released by Polydor
Records and internationally by Atlantic Records in November
2006—on the 40th anniversary of his first album, Matthew
and Son. The album has been produced by Rick Nowels, who
has worked with Dido and Rod Stewart.
Speaking about the album, David
Joseph, co-president of Polydor, said:
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.
wrote all the songs for the album and recorded it in both
the United States and the United Kingdom.
February 21 1989 Yusuf Islam addressed students at Kingston
University in London about his journey to Islam. He was
asked to describe the controversy in the Muslim world and
the fatwa promising Salman Rushdie's execution. Islam claims
to have only stated the legal consequences from the Qur'an
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. Shortly afterwards
he released a statement clarifying that he was not
personally encouraging anybody towards vigilantism.
York Times reported on May 23 1989 that Islam was to be on a
British television program the following week, and was
quoted as saying:
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.
most recent clarification of the issue is stated in a 2003
article on CatStevens.com, wherein he says that he never
stated support but was straightforwardly describing what he
understood of Muslim law, and laying the controversy at the
door of "journalistic malice":
simply a new Muslim who had stated something which I
considered quite plain and obvious and if you were to ask a
Bible student you know what the Ten Commandments were you
would expect him to repeat them honestly, you wouldn't blame
him for doing so; the Bible is full of similar headlines if
you’re looking for them.
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
Islam's alleged remarks.
of entry into the United States
September 2004 Yusuf Islam was travelling on United Airlines
Flight 919 from London to Washington. 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.
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
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."
identification as being on the watch list may be in error.
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
authorities to refuse me entry to the
According to an official statement by Islam, the man on the
list was named Yousef Islam, indicating that Yusuf Islam
himself was in fact, not the suspected terror supporter.
footnote to the actions taken by the U.S. government in
deporting Yusuf Islam as a 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 Islam has never supported terrorism and
that, to the contrary, he had recently been given a Man of
Peace award. 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.
added that he intended to donate the financial award given
to him by the court to help orphans of the recent Indian
Ocean Tsunami. Yusuf Islam wrote about the experience in a
newspaper article titled "A Cat in a Wild World".
was nominated to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame in 2005, but not voted in.
November 2004, Yusuf Islam was presented with a Man of 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
for services to education and humanitarian relief.
October 2005, Yusuf Islam was named Songwriter of the Year,
and also received Song of the Year honors for "The First Cut
Is The Deepest", at a special presentation in
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.
Stevens' song "Tea for The Tillerman" is the theme tune for
the Ricky Gervais sitcom Extras.
Stevens Official Website
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