Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has selected blind pop star Stevie Wonder to be a United Nations Messenger of Peace, with a special mission to help people with disabilities.
The U.N. said the singer-songwriter, who has won 25 Grammy awards, is being recognized for his philanthropic work with the U.S. President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, the Children's Diabetes Foundation and Junior Blind of America.
Wonder will be the 11th U.N. Messenger of Peace, joining a list of notable figures - including Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, actor Michael Douglas, primate expert Jane Goodall and conductor Daniel Barenboim - who use their prominent positions to promote the U.N. and help the less fortunate.
"Our newest Messenger of Peace is someone who is admired by millions of people and has given back to millions of people," Ban said in a statement ahead of Wonder's official designation at a U.N. news conference on Thursday.
U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said Wednesday that Wonder will focus on helping to improve life for the estimated 650 million people with disabilities - about 10 percent of the world's population.
Wonder was born in Saginaw, Mich., in 1950 and became blind shortly after birth. He learned to play the harmonica, piano and drums by age 9 and had his first recording contract with Motown Records by age 12.
In February, President Barack Obama presented Wonder with the Library of Congress' Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, the nation's highest award for pop music. He praised Wonder's blend of pop and funk, R&B and gospel, and thanked him for creating "a style that's uniquely American."
By Edith M. Lederer