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
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.
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
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.
On The WWW
At The Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame
Impressions At The Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame
Brother's Curtis Mayfield Website
- Links and tributes to the late soul legend
Curtis Mayfield page
do you think about Curtis Mayfield? Let