Biography of Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam)

He Made It Big With 'Morning Has Broken' and 'Moonshadow'

Cat Stevens
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Cat Stevens was born Steven Demetre Georgiou; since 1978 he has been known as Yusuf Islam. He was born in London in July 1948. His father was a Greek Cypriot and his mother was Swedish, and they divorced when he was 8 years old. By then, though, he had developed a love and affinity for playing the piano, sparking an interest in music that would last the rest of his life. But it was when he discovered rock 'n' roll via the Beatles that young Steven decided to pick up a guitar and learn how to play and tried his hand at writing songs.

He briefly attended Hammersmith College, thinking he might find a career in drawing or art. By then, he had been writing songs for several years, so it was only natural that he began performing -- under the pseudonym of Steve Adams. He was eventually discovered by Decca Records and had a hit in Britain with his song "I Love My Dog."

Road to Fame

Now calling himself Cat Stevens and hoping to score a hit in the U.S., he began focusing on more earnest and personal material. He inked a deal with Island Records and released his third album, "Mona Bone Jakon," in 1970. The same year, Jimmy Cliff had a hit with Stevens' song "Wild World." His albums "Tea for the Tillerman" (1970) and "Teaser and the Firecat" (1971) both went triple platinum. "Teaser and the Firecat" included the hits he is most famous for: "Peace Train," "Moonshadow" and "Morning Has Broken."

Stevens can most easily be compared to his contemporaries. Some other singer-songwriters from the 1970s include Paul Simon, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Don McLean, and Harry Chapin. Stevens' topical and storytelling approach to contemporary folk and pop music might also hold appeal for those just discovering Ani DiFranco, John Prine, Bob Dylan, and Dar Williams.

Conversion to Islam

After a near-death drowning experience, Stevens spent some time considering his values and priorities in life, getting in touch with his spirituality and raising questions within himself. Then, in 1977 Stevens converted to Islam, adopting the name Yusuf Islam the next year. After releasing his final album as Cat Stevens, Islam retired from making folk-pop music. He's had five children with his wife and has founded several Muslim schools in London and is involved in Muslim charities.

He has recorded and performed fairly regularly as Yusuf Islam since the 1990s and released a song dedicated to the Arab Spring uprisings around the Arab world, "My People." He has also made a few appearances to perform songs he wrote and made famous as Cat Stevens, including "Moonshadow" and "Peace Train."

Awards and Honors

He has received a number of humanitarian awards for his work with peace and education, including the World Award, the Mediterranean Peace Prize, and an honorary doctorate from the University of Exeter for his effort to forge peace and understanding between the West and the Arab world. He released nearly a dozen albums as Cat Stevens and two as Yusuf Islam. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in April 2014. 

In His Own Words

"I always stood for the elimination of conflict and wars, and any of those causes that ignite them."