Stephanie Mathis has a message for superstar Stevie Wonder, and it goes like this:
Like a fool (you) went and stayed too long
Now I'm wondering if your love's still strong
Ooh baby, here I am,
Signed, sealed, delivered, I'm yours.
She's not kidding about that "I'm yours" part. Mathis, 49, of Northeast Philly, is convinced that she is Wonder's long-lost daughter.
Yep, you read that correctly.
Family lore has it that Mathis' mother, Gloria Jean Mathis Greenidge, met Wonder when he was just a teenager and performing at the old Uptown Theater in North Philly back in the late 1960s. At the time, she was a teen mother of three daughters and a backup dancer with a troupe run by Pinkney Roberts. Wonder was a musical prodigy on his way to superstardom. Greenidge claims she and Wonder had a sexual encounter after a musical director brought him to her dressing room one night.
"We fell madly in love with each other," Greenidge told me in an exclusive interview last Friday. "Every time he would come to Philly, he would come get me. ... It was just wonderful. I got pregnant, and I let him know. He was very excited about the baby. He was only 17, and I was 19. He was very young, and I was young. And he didn't want me to have an abortion, and I wouldn't have done it anyway. So we decided to have our baby.
"I didn't want no one to know that he had a baby, and he wasn't ready for that to be known," claimed the Fishtown resident. "The last time I had the opportunity to be with him, I was eight months pregnant."
Greenidge said she stopped hearing from Wonder and, aside from a single phone call during the 1970s, never spoke with him again. Now 69, Greenidge is hoping desperately to make contact with the superstar. She's battling lung cancer and wants to introduce Mathis to the man she says is her father before it's too late.
Earlier this week, I reached out to Wonder and his longtime spokesperson, Shelley Selover. I soon heard back from lawyer Laura Wasser, a high-profile divorce attorney who also represents actress Angelina Jolie. On Wednesday, she emailed this statement from Wonder:
"I sincerely appreciate the Philadelphia Daily News reaching out to me regarding this matter. Before I decide the course of action, I will investigate the situation further and make the right decision based on what I learn.
"As a man who is committed to family, my intention is to do the honorable thing, and I will determine what my actions will be once the whole picture is clearer. In that this is a very personal and sensitive time for both families, I would ask that you of the press respect the privacy of all involved and allow this matter to be resolved with dignity for everyone. - Stevland."
Note: Stevland Hardaway Judkins is Wonder's birth name. His late mother, who had been in an abusive marriage, changed his last name to Morris to conceal his identity. Later, Motown's Berry Gordy dubbed him Little Stevie Wonder.
Steven Judkins is listed as the father on a copy of a birth certificate for Stephanie Pearline Judkins Mathis.
Greenidge claims Wonder asked her to name the baby Steven if it was a boy and Stephanie if it was a girl. She says he also explained that he wouldn't get access to his money until age 21 and that after he did, he would take care of them. He reportedly got a weekly allowance of just $2.50 a week from Motown, with his future royalties deposited into a bank account that he could access when he was of age, according to Icons of R&B and Soul: An Encyclopedia of the Artists Who Revolutionized Rhythm by Bob Gulla (Greenwood Press, 2008).
"I loved him so much that I didn't want to scar his name or make anybody have bad feelings about him," Greenidge said tearfully last Friday afternoon. "He was only 17. I didn't want to put his business out. So I said I would take care of our baby until one day he would find me."
That day never came.
Once, she says Wonder called when her daughter was around 6. Mathis claims to still remember speaking briefly with the Motown legend and said he told her he would try to visit after performing at the Uptown.
"It was so hard for me. I cried every day and every night," Mathis told me Thursday. "I just wanted to spend some time with my dad."
What about proof? Greenidge said she had a picture of her and Wonder but lost track of it after giving it to a friend who knew of an attorney she thought could help.
"I was so excited. I didn't think to get a copy made," Greenidge explained. "So I lost the only picture I ever had of us."
At one point during the interview, Greenidge held up a photo of Wonder's late mother, Lula Mae Hardaway, who died in 2006. Glancing at it, I could see that she and Mathis look as if they could be related.
"I continued for years trying to find somebody to help us," Greenidge said. "I couldn't get no help. Nobody was interested, and I tried all kind of radio stations, calling, begging them to help us, but nobody wanted to help us. So I just kept praying to God to help us."
She quit dancing following Mathis' birth, and Greenidge raised her daughters on public assistance in the old Raymond Rosen housing project. (Greenidge has six children, including an adopted daughter. Mathis is fourth in birth order.)
Theirs was a hard life. Money was always scarce. And for Mathis, she would always wonder about the man who her mother had assured her was her father.
"She never switched up the story," pointed out Mathis,who is out of work and lives with one of her daughters.
Greenidge keeps a drawing of Wonder that Mathis bought for $10 in a place of honor on a living room wall of her unit at Neumann Senior Housing (formerly St. Mary's Hospital) in Fishtown.
"I never gave up hope. I still can't give up hope. I would like closure," she said. "I would like her to meet her father. I would like a DNA [test] because I don't know how much longer this is going to go on. My cancer has started to spread. ... I don't need to be worrying. I don't need to be stressed out."
Clue at a concert
Fast forward to 2015.
In August 2015, Wonder was back in Philadelphia performing at a pop-up concert at Dilworth Park near City Hall. The following day, the Daily News reported that Wonder talked about coming to Philadelphia on his 16th birthday and meeting a girl:
" 'I'd never been there before, naw. ... It was a Friday going on Saturday. I thought I could see,' he joked. The crowd erupted with laughter. Then he launched into 'Hey Love' ... ."
When relatives spotted that item in the Daily News, they assumed that the girl Wonder was talking about was Greenidge. So they reached out to the paper, hoping to interest a reporter in their story. They were told nothing could be done about their claims until they produced a copy of a birth certificate, which they provided recently.
Greenidge told me she hopes that sharing her recollections in the newspaper might jog Wonder's memory - and also touch his heart. Wonder reportedly is a father to at least nine children, the youngest just 2. He's been married twice and is currently single.
"When he hears Stephanie's name, he's going to know because he named her," Greenidge said. "I had nothing to do with her name. He named her himself.
"We are not interested in the money," she told me. "We need him. We need him in our life. He is my ex-man. She needs her father. If it was about the money, I would have got him a long time ago. This is 49 years. This is all about one thing - love."