Curtis MayfieldCurtis Mayfield
Born June 3, 1942, in Chicago, Curtis Mayfield enjoyed a childhood filled with music. He was singing by age seven, strongly influenced by a local gospel group, the Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers, whose lineup included three of his cousins, Sam, Tommy, and Charles Hawkins, and future member of The Impressions, singer Jerry Butler.

By passing on a love of poetry to Curtis, his mother inspired him to develop his songwriting skills and teach himself to play the guitar. In 1957, Jerry Butler invited a then 16-year-old Mayfield to join The Roosters. Six months later, the group met Eddie Thomas, who renamed them The Impressions and became the group's manager.

Curtis MayfieldThe group hit the charts a year later with "For Your Precious Love" and Mayfield's professional career began in earnest. In addition to occasional gigs with The Impressions, he played guitar in Butler's touring band and gave Jerry his first R&B chart-topper in 1960 with "He Will Break Your Heart."

Saving money from his work with Butler, Mayfield took The Impressions to New York to cut some demos; the result was a recording contract with ABC Records that lasted until 1968, and produced a run of more than 18 charted singles that positioned the group as one of the most popular R&B acts of the '60s.

Tunes like "It's All Right" and "Woman's Got Soul" were Mayfield-penned highlights of the group's hit-filled repertoire, while "We're A Winner" (released in January 1968) quickly became a declaration of pride for African-Americans fighting for civil rights in a turmoil-filled decade.

Following further hits with The Impressions (including "Fool For You," "This Is My Country," and the classic "Choice Of Colors"), Curtis decided to begin a solo career in early 1970, initially planning to stay with the group for recording purposes only.

However, the reaction to his musically imaginative solo debut album, Curtis forced Mayfield to reconsider. Critical acclaim was followed by an immediate response from record buyers who embraced Mayfield's message of social consciousness in lyrics set against an organic, groove-laden backdrop of funky, heavily percussive rhythms, and swirling strings.

While at Lincoln Center in New York City, Curtis was approached by Phillip Fenty, a screenwriter, and Sig Shore, a producer, with the script of Superfly. They invited the artist to score and perform the soundtrack for the film, which proved to be one of the most successful black action films and soundtracks in history.

Bolstered by hit singles (the LP's title track and "Freddie's Dead"), Superfly went on to sell well over a million copies, receive four Grammy nominations, and help launch Curtis into superstardom. The success of this soundtrack led to a number of other similar endeavors. And more than 20 years after its release Superfly is still considered one of contemporary black music's most significant recordings.

A life-changing tragedy struck in August 1990. While Curtis performed at an outdoor concert in Brooklyn, high winds dislodged a lighting rig, which collapsed on him. The damage to his spine left Mayfield a quadriplegic. The accident all but ended his prolific career. Curtis Mayfield was inducted into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Impressions in 1991.

Curtis stunned the industry when he released the sublime "New World Order in 1996. The album drew critical acclaim and sold far fewer albums than it deserved. During his Grammy acceptance speeches, Eric Clapton recoginzed the album as an inspirational materpiece.

In 1999, Mayfield was inducted into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame again. This time as a solo artist. He was unable to attend the ceremony because of failing health. On December 26 of the same year, Curtis died in a hospital near his home in Atlanta, Georgia.

His legacy tells the story of musical and spiritual pioneer. His message was simple: love and peace will see us through. He taught us that message with everything he did. His music touched hearts, his words touched minds and his life touched souls.

Curtis On The WWW
Warner Brothers
At The Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame
The Impressions At The Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame
Inkinen Brother's Curtis Mayfield Website
Yahoo Index
- Links and tributes to the late soul legend
Eyeneer -
The Curtis Mayfield page -
Rhino Notes
Rough Guide
1998 Georgia Resolution

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Last Updated January 29, 2000