Born Steven Demetre Georgiou in 1948, Cat Stevens first enjoyed success in the '60s as a songwriter and pop singer, scoring British hits with the songs "I Love My Dog" and "Matthew & Son." After a bout with severe tuberculosis, Stevens returned with a different outlook on life and the music business, and he shifted creative gears, introducing himself as a more serious and philosophical singer/songwriter with the 1970 album Mona Bone Jakon. It was followed later the same year by Tea for the Tillerman, which became a massive international success in the wake of the single "Wild World." Between 1971 and 1977, Stevens would release six more studio albums and toured extensively as one of the most successful folk-rock artists of the era.
While his most successful work had often reflected a spiritual outlook and his interest in Buddhism, as the '70s wore on, he became increasingly devoted to Islamic teachings, and on December 23, 1977, he formally became a Muslim and adopted the name Yusuf Islam. Notwithstanding this change, there was a final Cat Stevens album, Back to Earth, released in December 1978; it sold modestly. With that, Yusuf Islam announced his retirement from the pop music business. He entered into a marriage that eventually produced five children, auctioned off his instrument collection, and focused on his family and supporting various humanitarian efforts. He played a major role in founding the Muslim Aid charity supporting victims of the Ethiopian famine and also established a Muslim primary school near London. He was not widely heard from for another ten years, until he made news at the end of the '80s by commenting on the Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa against novelist Salman Rushdie for writing the book The Satanic Verses. Islam later explained he was not calling for Rushdie's death but that he was defining Islamic law in the same way a Bible student would "quote the legal punishment of a person who commits blasphemy in the Bible." Still, "classic rock" radio stations discontinued playing him as a result, and he was the subject of significant backlash in the press.
In 1990, the compilation album The Very Best of Cat Stevens reached the U.K. Top Five. In the years that followed, he slowly began to resume a recording career, founding his own studio and label called Mountain of Light and releasing 1995's spoken word LP The Life of the Last Prophet. Following two more releases in a similar vein, he offered up an educational children's album called A Is for Allah, which came out in 2000. Meanwhile, his charitable efforts continued, and in the late '90s he and his wife, Fawziah, founded a charitable organization called Small Kindness to aid survivors of the conflict in the Balkans. Between the 2000 reissues of his entire Cat Stevens catalog and his public denouncement of the 9/11 attacks in New York, Yusuf's visibility continued to increase, and after a few more children's albums, he decided to re-enter the world of Western music. Released in 2006 and credited simply to Yusuf, An Other Cup was his first pop-oriented album in almost 30 years. In addition to making promotional appearances in print, radio, and television in support of the record, he also began to perform more of his earlier catalog. In early 2009, he collaborated with "fifth Beatle" Klaus Voormann for a cover version of George Harrison's "The Day the World Gets 'Round." All proceeds from the song were donated to a charity to help the children of war-torn Gaza. Later that same year, he released another pop album, Roadsinger. Yusuf toured often during the years after its release, and in 2010 he appeared at The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, an event hosted in Washington, D.C., by American satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert; Yusuf sang "Peace Train" as a counterpoint to Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train," while both were followed by the O'Jays' performance of "Love Train." The year 2012 saw the premiere of Moonshadow, a stage musical built around Stevens' best-known songs, which opened in Melbourne, Australia. In April 2014, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In October of that same year, a third LP under the Yusuf name appeared, Tell 'Em I'm Gone. The album, produced by Rick Rubin and featuring guitar work from Richard Thompson, saw Yusuf returning to the early blues and R&B that had inspired him as a young man. In 2016, he celebrated the 50th anniversary of his 1967 debut single, "I Love My Dog," with A Cat's Attic Tour, which was only his second North American tour since 1978. The following year, he delivered the studio album The Laughing Apple, which featured the newly penned single "See What Love Did to Me," as well as re-recorded versions of some of his own songs from 1967. Credited dually as Yusuf/Cat Stevens, it was the first release to feature his former stage name since 1978 and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Folk Album. Fifty years after the release of his international breakthrough album, Yusuf/Cat Stevens revisited the songs of Tea for the Tillerman on 2020's Tea for the Tillerman 2, in which he and producer Paul Samwell-Smith re-recorded all 11 songs with new arrangements. ~ William Ruhlmann & Mark Deming, Rovi