Cat Stevens - a major pop icon of the 1970s who gave up fame and fortune to follow his calling to Islam
Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, was born Stephen Demetre Georgiou on July 21st, 1948. He had a rather cosmopolitan upbringing, being born in central London to a Swedish mother and Greek-Cypriot father. He was raised in the Greek Orthodox Christian faith but sent to a Roman Catholic school. Although he did not take part in the Catholic rituals he was steeped in the importance of good versus evil, morality and religion in general.
There was another side to his life however. Stevens' parents owned a restaurant in Shaftesbury Avenue and he went to school near Drury Lane so he was immersed in the bright lights and excitement of London's theatre district. He was both artistic and musical, but gripped by the idea of fame and fortune, he gave up his dream of becoming an artist to follow the path to the more lucrative lifestyle of pop stardom.
In 1965 Stevens began performing under the name of Stephen Adams and was soon spotted by record producer Mike Hurst. He cut his first demo, I Love My Dog, was signed up by Decca Records and agreed to change his name - Cat Stevens was born.
I Love My Dog made it into the British Top 40 in October 1966, followed by the even more successful Matthew and Son in January 1967, which narrowly missed reaching number one. His next hit song Here Comes My Baby, recorded by the Tremeloes, was also successful in America. His third single I'm Gonna Get Me A Gun and his album Matthew And Son both reached the British top ten but these were followed by the less successful A Bad Night and Kitty . His second album New Masters didn't make the charts at all.
All this happened in the space of a year, throughout which he enjoyed all the trappings of too much drink, drugs, women and parties. It all came to a sudden halt when he contracted tuberculosis, at the age of 19, and spent the next year in hospital.
It was during this time, when he was faced with his own mortality, that he had the time to reflect on his life. He became aware of an 'emptiness' and the realisation that there must be more to life than fame and fortune. Over the next few years he was to embrace one religion after another in search of inner peace and contentment. He studied Buddhism , Hinduism, Zen, astrology and Transcendental meditation, all to no avail - he found nothing to satisfy his needs.
His music style changed after he came out of hospital, a reflection of the changes going on in his head. His records became more personal and introspective and had a simple acoustic sound. He parted with his record company and joined Island Records. His next album, Mona Bone Jakon, and the single, Lady D'Arbanville, hit the charts in the summer of 1970; in August, Jimmy Cliff charted with the Stevens song Wild World. The album Tea For The Tillerman marked his debut in the American LP Chart and he was suddenly a major international star, rubbing shoulders with the likes of James Taylor and Carole King.
A succession of hits followed, including the singles Moon Shadow, Peace Train and Morning Has Broken, albums Teaser And The Firecat and Catch Bull At Four and the constant strain of touring left him physically exhausted. In 1973 he left Britain to become a tax exile living in Brazil. During this time he continued to record, but cut down on live performances; the money he would have had to give away in taxes he gave to charity.
One day while Stevens was swimming in the Pacific Ocean he was caught by a rip tide and found himself being carried out to sea. With no one around to hear him, he cried out to God for help. God apparently answered by sending a large wave which carried him in to the safety of the beach. It was a moment of truth and Stevens promised God that he would work for Him.
It is not surprising, given that his father was a Greek-Cypriot with an inbred fear of all things Turkish or Moslem, that Stevens had never thought to study Islam in his quest for enlightenment. This was to change when his brother, David, impressed by the peace of a Moslem Mosque in Jerusalem, bought him a copy of the Qu'ran. It took him over a year to read and digest it, but by the end, in 1977, he walked into a Mosque in London and made the Testimony of Faith. He was now a Moslem. He was now Yusuf Islam.
The soul-searching began - was his career against the teachings of the Qu'ran? He was advised that it would be alright to continue making music, within certain boundaries, but he decided that being a 'pop star' was the same as being an idol and was therefore totally unacceptable. He auctioned his guitars and gold records, the proceeds going to Islamic charities, and renounced his old life. He declared that his songs were akin to blasphemy and rejected his fans. He even agreed in principle to the Fatwa against Salman Rushdie, but has since insisted that his words were taken out of context by the press.
With the passing of the years his religious zeal has mellowed considerably. He now regrets rejecting his fans and has come to realise the worth of his music, much of it he sees as being prophetic. He had an arranged marriage in 1979, and lives a moderate lifestyle with his wife and 5 children in Willesden, London. He firmly believes that he should reach the people and explain Islam in a way that they understand. He has made a number of Islamic recordings with this aim in mind.
October 20th, 2001 - Yusuf performed live for the first time in 22 years - he sang his old song Peace Train. Yusuf strongly condemns the actions taken on September 11th, 2001.
"Conflicts on earth seem endless, like day follows night. Life goes on and, regrettably, wars and terrorism are still very much with us. But nothing should stop us 'dreaming about the world as one'. Let's hope those words of my song Peace Train will one day be fulfilled." - Yusuf Islam
- A plane bound for Washington
, USA, carrying Yusaf Islam was redirected to Maine
, and the former singer was denied access to the country because of suspected terrorist links. He is considering taking legal action against the US, saying 'Never would I believe that such a thing could happen in the land of the free - unfortunately, it did.'
Cat Stevens official album releases:
Yusuf Islam's Official releases
There have been many singles, compilations and unofficial recordings, too numerous to mention.
The Cat Stevens Box Set of CDs should be released 10/30/01