Malcolm Cecil, a pioneering producer known for his work on some of Stevie Wonder’s biggest albums of the 1970s, has died. He was 84 years old.
His death on March 28 was announced via The Bob Moog Foundation’s Twitter account, who also revealed he had been suffering from a “long illness”.
“It is with the heaviest of hearts that we share the passing of the legendary creative genius, musician, engineer, producer, & synthesizer pioneer, Malcolm Cecil,” a post from the organization read.
Malcolm Cecil is widely regarded as an influential producer through his work with TONTO (The Original New Timbral Orchestra), which began as an analog synthesizer he and Robert Margouleff designed and constructed over a number of years.
The TONTO synthesizer delivered an array of new sounds, and marked the world’s first multitimbral polyphonic analog synthesizer. It remains the largest synthesizer of this kind in the world.
Through the use of TONTO, Cecil and Margouleff were credited as associate producers, engineers and programmers on some of Stevie Wonder’s biggest albums from the 1970s. These include ‘Music of my Mind’, ‘Talking Book’, ‘Innervisions’ and ‘Fulfillingness’ First Finale’ – the latter hitting the top spot on the Billboard 200.
Arguably the most notable of Wonder’s songs from this period is ‘Superstition’, taken from ‘Talking Book’, which marked his first number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in almost 10 years in 1972. The keyboard sound of ‘Superstition’ was fed through TONTO, and its bassline was created with TONTO.
After almost two decades, Wonder would again use the TONTO on ‘Jungle Fever’, a soundtrack album for the Spike Lee film of the same name released in 1991.
Alongside Margouleff, Cecil released two studio albums early in the 1970s as part of ‘TONTO’s Expanding Head Band’. A string of musicians used TONTO following Wonder, including Quincy Jones, Gil Scott-Heron, Joan Baez, The Isley Brothers and more.