Born in London in 1948 with the name Steven Georgiou, he learned to play piano from an early age. At the age of 15, his interest in The Beatles sparked an interest in the guitar and writing pop music, which he would often do in secret from the rooftop of his parents’ restaurant. His love of music grew and grew, as he gathered inspiration from Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, John Lennon, Paul Simon, and Leonard Bernstein.
At 18 years old, Steven Georgiou adopted the stage name Cat Stevens and signed his first recording deal. Songs like “Here Comes My Baby,” and “The First Cut Is the Deepest” emerged from this fertile songwriting period. Although these songs have since achieved ‘classic’ status, at the time Stevens struggled to find an audience. A further setback befell him in 1969 when he contracted tuberculosis. This ailment nearly took his life and forced him to take a year off in recovery. Despite these difficulties, Stevens continued to write and record songs, finding success with the songs “Lady D’Arbanville,” “Wild World,” “Moon Shadow,” and “Peace Train.” His music was featured prominently in the films Deep End and Harold and Maude. At this time Cat Stevens became a household name, earning several gold records and touring alongside such acts as Jimi Hendrix.
In 1977, Stevens nearly drowned off the coast of Malibu, CA, once again bringing him to the edge of his mortality. This revelatory experience placed Stevens on the spiritual path that he has been following ever since. He became fascinated with the Islamic religion and the Qur’an, and he even changed his name in 1978. All at once, the musical career of Cat Stevens came to an end and the spiritual journey of Yusuf Islam was born. After converting to Islam, he auctioned off his instruments and quit working as a performing musician.
Thankfully, this departure from music was simply a hiatus for Yusuf. The combination of his faith and gift of connecting with an audience as a musician led him back on stage for the 1985 Live Aid festival in support of the victims of famine in Africa. Ever since, Yusuf’s music has served as a vehicle through which he can help people. He has founded numerous Muslim schools in the United Kingdom, as well as the Small Kindness charity in support of those in need in Africa, Indonesia, and Iraq. In 2009, he released a cover of George Harrison’s “The Day the World Gets Round” and donated the proceeds to the Save the Children nonprofit and the UNRWA in support of Palestinian refugees. Yusuf has been one of the most outspoken supporters of Muslim equality and has striven to educate people of Muslim values and culture following the September 11th attacks in New York City. His efforts earned him the World Social Award, the Mediterranean Prize for Peace, and the Man for Peace Award, presented by Mikhail Gorbachev.
Since reclaiming his life’s passion as a songwriter, Yusuf has released 11 albums, most recently 2009’s Roadsinger. In 2008, Yusuf was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. As further proof of the simplistic joy and universal concepts evoked by his music, he was awarded the title of “Songwriter of the Year” by ASCAP for the song, “The First Cut Is the Deepest,” written nearly 40 years previously.