For Once in My Life

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For the Melanie B song, see For Once in My Life (Melanie B song).
Not to be confused with Just Once in My Life. ‹See Tfd›
"For Once in My Life"
Single by Stevie Wonder
from the album For Once in My Life
Released October 15, 1968
Format 7" single
Recorded Hitsville USA (Studio A); summer 1967
Genre Soul
Length 2:52
Label Tamla
T 54174
Writer(s) Ron Miller
Orlando Murden
Producer(s) Henry Cosby
Stevie Wonder singles chronology
"For Once in My Life"

"For Once in My Life" is a swing song written by Ron Miller and Orlando Murden for Motown Records' Jobete publishing company, and first recorded in 1966.

It was written and first recorded as a slow ballad. There are differing accounts of its earliest versions, although it seems that it was first recorded by Barbara McNair, but first released in 1966 by Jean DuShon. Other early versions of the ballad were issued by The Four Tops, The Temptations, and Tony Bennett whose recording was the first to reach the pop charts.

The most familiar and successful version of "For Once in My Life" is an uptempo arrangement by Stevie Wonder, recorded in 1967. Wonder's version, issued on Motown's Tamla label, was a top-three hit in the United States in late 1968 and early 1969. The song was included on the soundtrack to the 2001 film See Spot Run and the soundtrack to 2010's Shrek Forever After.

Early recordings[edit]

Miller and Murden wrote the song in 1965 as a slow ballad, and passed it around various singers so that it could be tried out and refined. Among those who, it is claimed, heard and performed the song in about 1966 – but did not record it – are Jo Thompson, a club singer in Detroit; Sherry Kaye, who may have performed it in a musical revue at the Gem Theater;[1] and Johnny Hartman, who turned it down.[2]

Jean DuShon[edit]

Jean DuShon was one of the singers who was originally tapped by Ron Miller to demo the song as he was fine-tuning the composition. Miller was impressed by DuShon's rendition, and her version, produced by Esmond Edwards, was issued as a single on Chess Records' Cadet label in October 1966.[3] It was chosen "Pick Hit of the Week" by Detroit's WXYZ radio. Although the record label gave the sole songwriting credit to Murden, Motown CEO Berry Gordy discovered that Miller – who was contracted to Motown – had co-written the song, and reportedly asked Chess not to promote the single.[4][5] DuShon dropped "For Once In My Life" from her nightclub act and later said: "It was a very big disappointment in my life. I stopped singing it ‘cause I didn’t have the song. I didn’t have anything. It wasn’t mine anymore."[1][6]

Barbara McNair[edit]

"For Once in My Life"
Song by Barbara McNair from the album Here I Am
Released 1966
Recorded October 1965
Length 2:56
Writer Ron Miller
Orlando Murden
Producer Frank Wilson

At Motown, the song was recorded, perhaps as early as October 1965,[7] by Barbara McNair backed up by a symphony orchestra and produced by Frank Wilson. Some sources suggest that the song was originally written for McNair;[8] others that Gordy, hearing the song, insisted that she recorded it.[5] However, her version was not released until it appeared on her November 1966 album, Here I Am. It was also released as the B-side of her 1968 single, "Where Would I Be Without You".[9] In later years, McNair re-recorded the song with a faster tempo.

Other early Motown recordings[edit]

Singer Jack Soo claimed that he was the first male artist to record a version of the song, after he joined Motown in 1965 as one of their first non-African American artists. The record was never released and was permanently shelved in the Motown archives.[10][11] Another singer contracted to Motown at the time, Connie Haines, also claimed to have recorded an early unreleased version.[1]

The Four Tops recorded the song on their album 4 Tops On Broadway, released in March 1967 and, like McNair's recording, produced as a slow ballad by Frank Wilson.[12]

The Temptations also recorded the song for their pop standards based album The Temptations in a Mellow Mood, released in July 1967.[13] Baritone singer Paul Williams sings the lead vocal on the song, and it subsequently became his showcase number in the Temptations' live shows. Williams' most famous performance of the number was during The Supremes and Temptations' TCB television special in 1968, a performance cited as the apex of Williams' career. The song also made its way into The Temptations 1998 made-for-television miniseries on NBC. After celebrating The Temptations' (and Motown's) first Grammy win for "Cloud Nine", the actor who portrays Paul Williams (Christian Payton) sings the slow ballad version.

Tony Bennett[edit]

Also in 1967, "For Once in My Life" became one of Tony Bennett's more successful forays into contemporary songs. His version of the song peaked at number 91 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart, (#8 on the Easy Listening survey) and was the title track of his album For Once in My Life. "For Once in My Life" remained in Bennett's concert repertoire into the 2000s. In 2006 Bennett teamed up with Stevie Wonder to record a ballad tempo version for his Duets: An American Classic album, for which Bennett and Wonder received a Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals. Bennett also performed it on the Grand Finale of American Idol 6.

Stevie Wonder[edit]

Stevie Wonder's version was recorded at about the same time as The Temptations' in the summer of 1967. However, Berry Gordy did not like Wonder's version, an upbeat rendition produced by Henry Cosby. Gordy vetoed the single's release, and the recording was shelved. Billie Jean Brown, the head of the Motown Quality Control department, finally coerced Gordy into allowing Wonder's version to be released in October 1968.[14]

Contrary to Gordy's instincts, "For Once in My Life" was a highly successful record, peaking at number-two on both the Billboard Pop Singles and Billboard R&B Singles (it was held off from the number-one spot on each chart by another Motown single Gordy had originally vetoed, Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine"). "For Once in My Life", issued by Tamla with "Angie Girl" as its b-side, was later included as the title track on Wonder's For Once in My Life album.

Wonder's version of the track is often singled out by bassists as the greatest example of James Jamerson's playing style, with no two bars of music played alike during the whole song; a completely improvisational line that is both melodic and complementary to Wonder's vocal. Background vocals are by The Originals (Freddie Gorman, Walter Gaines, Hank Dixon, C.P. Spencer) and The Andantes (Jackie Hicks, Marlene Barrow, Louvain Demps), and instrumentation by The Funk Brothers.

Later recordings[edit]

  • Ella Fitzgerald performed a slow rendition of the song live in Berlin in 1968. She began by saying, "There's a song in the States made popular by Tony Bennett. Such a beautiful tune. We'd like to try and sing it for you because we think the lyrics are so gorgeous and the tune itself is beautiful."
  • Jackie Wilson recorded a modified ballad version, more uptempo than Tony Bennett, but downbeat compared to Stevie Wonder. It lost in a cover record war, Wilson reaching #70 in late 1968, Wonder peaking at #2 in Billboard's Hot 100.
  • Nancy Sinatra recorded a version in late 1968 and it was included on her album Nancy, which was released in March 1969.
  • Judy Garland performed the song on The Mike Douglas Show in 1968, and also performed it in concert in Copenhagen March, 25 1969, the final tour before her death; mp3 audio is available at The Judy Room [15]
  • Frank Sinatra recorded the song twice, once for his album My Way (1969) and again for his 1994 album, Duets II. His partners on the latter recording were Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder.
  • Andy Williams released a version in 1969 on his album, Happy Heart.
  • Vikki Carr used the song as the title track of a 1969 album.
  • In 1969, Dorothy Squires recorded the song, arranged and conducted by Nicky Welsh on the President label, and had a chart hit in the UK.
  • Spiral Starecase included a recording of this song in their album More Today than Yesterday released by Columbia Records on May 19, 1969.[16]
  • Desmond Dekker recorded the song on the 1969 album Israelites.
  • James Brown's version is featured as track 8 on his 1970 Soul on Top album.
  • Louis Prima recorded the song for his 1970 album Blast Off. A similar arrangement was recorded by Sam Butera in his 2007(?) album When You're Smiling.
  • British pop singer Cilla Black recorded a version for her 1970 studio album Sweet Inspiration. The recording was produced by George Martin.
  • Sammy Davis, Jr. recorded the song twice. Once, in 1970, on his album Something For Everyone (on Motown Records) and in 1973 for Sammy: The Original Television Soundtrack. He has also performed the song live in concert.
  • Bobby Darin performed the song live in the early 1970s.
  • Gladys Knight & the Pips recorded the song on the album Neither One of Us, released in early 1973 by Motown Records, featured Knight's contralto on lead vocals.
  • Glen Campbell performed a version of this song on his "Goodtime Hour" TV Show. It appears on the DVD, "Glen Campbell, Good Times Again" released in 2007. It also appears on his "Live" LP from 1969 recorded at "Garden State Arts Center" in New Jersey, USA.
  • Australian singer John Farnham recorded a version of For Once In My Life in 1971. It was released on his album titled Johnny.
  • Known as The King in his country (Brazil), Roberto Carlos sang a version on his TV show, Roberto Carlos Especial, with Freddy Cole on piano in 1978. In 1979, he sang a version during the show Palhaço (Clown). Carlos recorded the song in 1979 and released it as a single. His version is very similar to that by Tony Bennett, of whom Carlos is an avowed fan.
  • In 1986, Dean Martin recorded the song and performed a duet of it with Smokey Robinson in a television appearance. Martin had previously recorded the song solo on his 1970 LP For The Good Times.
  • In 1996, Dionne Farris sang a version as the closing song in the film The Truth About Cats & Dogs starring Uma Thurman and Janeane Garofalo.
  • In the courtroom comedy-drama series Ally McBeal, "For Once in My Life" was performed by show mainstay singer Vonda Shepard. The song was used to "sing" the main character Ally Mcbeal's quest for true love. The song is included in the show's original soundtrack, For Once in My Life, volume 2.
  • Several people have sung the song on the reality singing competition, American Idol. Justin Guarini sang this during Motown week of the first season of the show which became his signature performance. He also covered it on the American Idol: Greatest Moments CD. Camile Velasco sang the song, also during Motown week, in the third season. In the sixth season, Melinda Doolittle sang this song in her initial audition. In season 8, Megan Joy performed this song during Motown Week, and winner Kris Allen sang it during Hollywood Week. In season 10, Scotty McCreery performed this song during Motown Week.
  • It was sung by Keith Jack in the finals of the talent show, Any Dream Will Do.
  • In 2003, Canadian-born crooner Michael Bublé recorded a version Frank Sinatra style of the song on his self-titled debut album.
  • Stevie Wonder's version is featured on the closing credits of the film Monster-in-Law starring Jennifer Lopez & Jane Fonda.
  • Patti Austin also has a version of the song.
  • It was performed on BBC Casting competition "I'd do anything" by Rachel Tucker, one of the hopeful Nancy's, in big band week.
  • This song was also performed by Jaclyn Victor, Malaysian first Malaysian Idol during her debut in Asian Idol.
  • A German version, entitled Es Kommt Eine Zeit, was published in 2005 by the German soul singer Stefan Gwildis on his album Nur Wegen Dir.
  • Jazz-pop guitarist Buddy Fite (fight) saw chart action with his single version. The Cyclone records single reached #142 in the US Record World charts, February-March 1970.
  • The X factor's Dionne Mitchell also covered the song as part of Big Band Week.
  • Jamaican Rocksteady singer Slim Smith also covered the song. It is featured in the 1969 album entitled "Unity's Great Reggae Hits" released by Pama's subsidiary Unity label.
  • Michael McDonald has performed a rendition on his Soul Speak album.
  • In 2007, Tony Bennett teamed up with Michael Bublé, Josh Groban and Carrie Underwood to perform the song on a special 'What's on your iPod' episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show.
  • Michael Bolton recorded a version on his 2006 "Bolton Swings Sinatra" album.
  • Willona Woods (Ja'net Dubois) sang the song in an episode of the sitcom Good Times, partly in dedication of her newly adopted daughter, Penny.
  • Craig David covered the song on his album Signed Sealed Delivered in 2010.
  • Mirah covered the song for Believe Out Loud's A Million Christians for LGBT Equality ad in 2011.
  • Anthony Strong released a music video of his version of the song in May 2012.
  • On June 17, 2012 The Voice Australia finalist Darren Percival performed a cover of the song reaching number 6 on the iTunes download list.[17]
  • Kevin McHale covered this song in an episode of Glee called Wonder-ful.
  • In 2013, the renowned Spanish actress & singer Natalia Dicenta released an uptempo version of the song on her album Colours.

In pop culture[edit]

  • The song was used in the movie "Meet the Parents", with a version sung by Bobby Womack.[18]
  • The song was used during the farewell montage at the end of the 2010 film Shrek Forever After. The song was used to represent Shrek's journey throughout all four films as Shrek Forever After was the final film in the series.
  • The song was also used in Series 7, Episode 1 of the British comedy Men Behaving Badly.
  • The song was also used in Season 2 of The HBO Comedy-Drama Entourage.
  • The song was also featured in the 2010 film Valentine's Day.
  • The song was also recorded by Harry Connick, Jr. for his 2004 album "Only You".
  • In 2010, the song was featured in Fringe episode 2.20, "Brown Betty," sung by Olivia Dunham in a "fairy tale" that Dr. Walter Bishop was telling Olivia's niece, Ella. The song was subsequently parodied by The Fringemunks as part of a medley that recapped this musical episode's storyline.[19] The Stevie Wonder version was later played in episode 3.14, "6B," as selected by Peter Bishop from a bar's jukebox during a discussion with Olivia.
  • In July and August 2013, the song featured on a UK advert for BSkyB featuring David Beckham, promoting the showing of Barclays Premier League games on Sky Sports in the 2013-14 season.
  • The song was used in Episode 6 (Dissonant Voices) in Season 15 of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in 2013.


  1. ^ a b c David Freeland, "Behind The Song: “For Once in My Life”, American Songwriter, 1 May 2007. Retrieved 25 November 2013
  2. ^ Gregg Akkerman, The Last Balladeer: The Johnny Hartman Story, Scarecrow Press, 2012, p.143
  3. ^ Biography of JeanDuShon by Andrew Hamilton at Retrieved 25 November 2013
  4. ^ Ralph McNight, "Jean DuShon", Blues On Stage, August 2002. Retrieved 25 November 2013
  5. ^ a b Joel Francis, "Stevie Wonder – “For Once in my Life”", 28 October 2009. Retrieved 26 November 2013
  6. ^ Note: Author, David Freeland ("Ladies of Soul") recently contacted (June, 2007) Ron Miller's daughter (Lisa Dawn Miller) and asked her to confirm with her dad who recorded this classic first; Ron Miller said, "Jean DuShon."
  7. ^ "For Once In My Life" at Retrieved 26 November 2013
  8. ^ The Year of Tony Bennett: Song of the Day: For Once in My Life. Retrieved 26 November 2013
  9. ^ "Where Would I Be Without You" at Retrieved 26 November 2013
  10. ^ Adachi, Jeff (2009). "The Jack Soo Story". You Don’t Know Jack: The Jack Soo Story. Retrieved May 24, 2011. 
  11. ^ Lom, Michael. "More Stories from Jeff Adachi". Retrieved from May 24, 2011.
  12. ^ 4 Tops On Broadway at Retrieved 26 November 2013
  13. ^ In A Mellow Mood at Retrieved 26 November 2013
  14. ^ Posner, Gerald (2002). Motown : Music, Money, Sex, and Power. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-375-50062-6.
  15. ^ The Judy Room: Judy Sings/Miscellaneous
  16. ^ Smiley Childs, Marti and March, Jeff (2011). Where Have All the Pop Stars Gone. California: EditPros LLC. ISBN 1-937317-01-3.
  17. ^ "Karise Eden, the 'Black Caviar' of The Voice". Retrieved 2012-06-18. 
  18. ^
  19. ^

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