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Mayfield, Curtis 1942–1999

Curtis Mayfield 19421999

Singer, guitarist, songwriter, record company executive

Joined the Impressions

Gospel Influence Proved Popular

Found Success With Solo Career

Continued Career After Paralyzing Accident

Selected discography

Sources

Curtis Mayfield was an early comer to the world of music. When he was barely ten years old he was already writing music, and by the time he was fifteen he was invited to join the group the Impressions, a group that would come to be known world-wide for its rhythm and blues sound found in such songs as Gypsy Woman, the song for which the group was eventually honored with a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Mayfield went on to an incredibly successful solo career during which he became famous for such popular songs as Super-fly and Freddies Dead. He was a political man, many of whose songs, such as Were a Winner, Im So Proud, and People Get Ready, were unofficially associated with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. In 1990 Mayfield was injured during a concert rehearsal and paralyzed. He didnt let that stop him, however, and before his death in 1999 Mayfield wrote more music and was admitted as a solo artist into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Joined the Impressions

Born on June 3, 1942, Curtis Lee Mayfield grew up in a poor family that moved from neighborhood to neighborhood in Chicago. By the time he was in high school, his family had settled in the Cabrini-Green projects on Chicagos North Side. Mayfields strongest early musical influence came from his membership in a local gospel group called the Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers, which included three cousins and Jerry Butler. But young Mayfield was also interested in his own music. As Mayfield told the Detroit News in 1974, I was writing music when I was 10 or 11 years old. Mayfields grandmother was a preacher in the Traveling Souls Spiritualist Church, and traces of church and gospel music are evident in many of his compositions. Mayfield attended Wells High School on Chicagos North Side along with another popular singer, Major Lance, but he left when he was in the tenth grade to begin performing with the Impressions.

The Impressions began playing around 1956 as the Roosters in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with Fred Cash, Sam Gooden, Emanuel Thomas, and the brothers Richard and Arthur Brooks. Seeking to advance their musical careers, Gooden and the Brooks brothers went north to Chicago in 1957 and moved to the North Side in the Cabrini-Green projects. Jerry Butler was a senior in high school at the time, and he acted as a replacement

At a Glance

Born Curtis Lee Mayfield on June 3, 1942, in Chicago, IL; died on December 26, 1999, in Atlanta, GA of natural causes; married three times; children: eleven.

Career: The Impressions, lead singer and songwriter, 1958-70; Curtom Record and Publishing Co., owner, 1970-99; solo performer, 1970-99.

Awards: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, inductee with the Impressions, 1990; Nat, Acad, of Recording Arts & Sciences Lifetime Achievement Award, 1994; Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, inductee as a solo artist, 1998; Songwriters Hall of Fame, inductee, 2000.

for the vocalists who had stayed in Tennessee. Butler encouraged Mayfield to join the group, saying they needed someone who could play an instrument and who could help us get our harmony together, as quoted by Robert Pruter in Chicago Soul. By this time, Mayfield was writing gospel-influenced songs and had learned how to play the guitar.

The group made some early recordings for the Bandera label and were then discovered by Eddie Thomas of Vee Jay records, who became their manager and changed their name to the Impressions. Vee Jay and Chess records were two of Chicagos major rhythm and blues labels of the time, and the Impressions made their first record for Vee Jay about six months after Mayfield joined the group. Released on the companys subsidiary label, Falcon, For Your Precious Love featured Jerry Butlers lead vocals. Its first issue sold over nine hundred thousand copies. Vee Jays A&R man Calvin Carter signed them immediately after hearing the song, which he reportedly liked for its spiritual feel, a genuine departure from the doo-wop harmonies of the day.

Vee Jay promoted the group as Jerry Butler and the Impressions and developed Butler as a solo artist. After three singles, Butler left the group to go out on his own. As Mayfield told Pruter, When Jerry left it allowed me to generate and pull out my own talents as a writer and a vocalist. Mayfields soprano singing contrasted with Butlers baritone leads. The group released a few singles with Mayfield as leader and then was dropped by Vee Jay. From 1959 to 1961, the Impressions temporarily split up, and Mayfield began writing songs and playing guitar for Butler in 1960.

Gospel Influence Proved Popular

By 1961 Mayfield had saved enough moneyabout a thousand dollarsto regroup the Impressions and take them to New York to arrange a recording session. In July they recorded Gypsy Woman for ABC-Paramount. Mayfield was only 18 when the group signed with ABC-Paramount, and it was the beginning of a seven-year string of popular and rhythm and blues hits that were all composed by Mayfield. Mayfield, Sam Gooden, Fred Cash, and Arthur and Richard Brooks sang on Gypsy Woman. The Brooks brothers left the Impressions in 1962, and the remaining members continued as a trio throughout the 1960s.

In 1963 the group recorded Its All Right, which Pruter termed the first single to define the classic style of the 1960s Impressions. Producer Jerry Pate lifted the energy level considerably, adding blaring horns and a more forceful, percussive bottom, wrote Pruter. Its All Right was a crossover hit that went to Number Four on the pop charts and Number One on the rhythm and blues charts in the fall of 1963. The song featured the lead switching off from among the three and the two others singing in harmony with the lead, Pruter commented in Chicago Soul. It was a fresh new sound in rhythm and blues, but critics have noted that it came directly from Mayfields gospel singing experience.

In 1964 the Impressions became a major act with a series of strong singles that included Im So Proud, Keep On Pushing, and Amen. Mayfield was apparently inspired by the emergence of the civil rights movement. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jesse Jackson adopted Keep On Pushing as an unofficial theme song for the movement. Dan Kening, writing in the Chicago Tribune, proclaimed that Mayfields inspirational lyrics reflected a strong black consciousness while preaching the tenets of hard work, persistence, and faith as the key to achieving equality.

The group peaked with their best material in 1965 when they released People Get Ready, a song with heavy gospel imagery and feeling. The album of the same name included such songs as Womans Got Soul and the churchy Meeting Over Yonder. Following this peak, the group was less successful and had fewer hits. In 1967 Were a Winner managed to reach Number 14 on Billboards pop charts, in spite of the fact that many white radio stations, including Chicagos WLS, would not play it. That song, and its follow-up Were Rolling On, also caused black radio stations problems in the late 1960s. As Pruter wrote, Surprisingly at that time, black radio had not kept pace with its black constituency and there was a lot of resistance by programmers over playing such overtly political songs. The popularity of those songs [ Were a Winner and Were Rolling On ] had the effect of pushing black radio in the direction its listeners were going.

In addition to composing, singing, and playing the guitar, Mayfield was also interested in setting up his own record label. In 1960, at the age of 21, he made the unprecedented move of establishing his own music publishing company, Curtom, while recording at Vee Jay. Mayfield began setting up two labels in 1966, Mayfield and Windy C., but it was in 1968 that he established his most successful label, also named Curtom. He took the Impressions away from ABC and also recorded and produced such artists as Major Lance, Baby Huey and the Babysitters, and the Five Stairsteps. Mayfields songwriting and producing abilities were a key factor in the labels success, which enjoyed distribution by Buddah from 1968 to 1975 and by Warner Brothers from 1975 until Mayfield folded the label in 1980.

Found Success With Solo Career

Mayfield announced his departure from the Impressions in August of 1970. He began his solo career in 1971, offering a biting commentary of the American scene and impressions of oppressed people, according to a review in Billboard. A New York Times music critic said of his first solo album, Curtis: Mayfield himself continues to be a kind of contemporary preacher-through-music. He sings in a breathlessly high, pure voice, breaking his phrases into speech-like patterns, his rhythms pushed by the urgency of his thought He is not a lyrical singer, and his message seems as important to him as his melody. Including songs of up to ten minutes in length, Curtis established Mayfield as an album rather than a singles artist.

Mayfield began a successful career writing soundtracks for films with the 1972 movie, Superfly. Somewhat controversial, the film glorified the life of a drug pusher and was part of the then-popular genre of blaxploitation films. According to a New York Times review, Mayfields music is more specifically anti-drugs than the philosophical content of the movie, and it is also considerably more stylish in design and execution. Two top-ten hit singles resulted from the soundtrack: Freddies Dead and Superfly.

Throughout the 1970s, Mayfield continued to write soundtracks for several films and solidified his reputation as a solo artist. Mayfields solo career featured harder sounding songs than he wrote for the Impressions, with didactic lyrics and social commentary. In spite of adverse criticism, Pruter assessed Mayfields 1970s output positively, writing, Some of the very best black popular music of the 1970s came from Mayfield, who despite the many misses during the decade was one of the creative leaders in establishing a new contemporary style of rhythm and blues, one with a militant, harder edge.

The Impressions regrouped in 1983 for a reunion tour. Original members Butler, Mayfield, Gooden, and Cash performed the 1960s hits of the Impressions along with the solo hits of Butler and Mayfield. As reviewed by Robert Palmer in the New York Times, the performances amounted to a capsule history of recent black popular music, from the slick doo-wop and grittier gospel-based vocal group styles of the 1950s to Mr. Butlers urbane pop-soul, Curtis Mayfields soul message songs and later funk, and the styles the Impressions have tackled as a group. Palmer continued: The Impressions were one of the two top rhythm-and-blues vocal groups of the 1960s; the other was the Temptations. Both were rooted in the rich traditions of black gospel music.

Mayfields influence on a new generation of listeners was evident in many ways. His 1960s compositions for the Impressions have enjoyed numerous cover versions from a wide range of popular singers. And some critics have suggested that his anti-drug messages, most emphatically expressed in the songs for Superfly, fit well with the new films created by young black filmmakers. Popular rap singer and actor Ice-T, who sang on Superfly 1990 with Mayfield, said in tribute to the artist, Theres only been a couple of people Ive met [in the music business] that to me are really heavy. Curtis is one of them.

Continued Career After Paralyzing Accident

A native Chicagoan who moved to Atlanta in 1980, Curtis Mayfield was enjoying the best comeback year of his career in 1990. His soul vocal group the Impressions, was nominated for a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and a successful cover version of their 1961 hit Gypsy Woman, was recorded by Santana. Take It to the Streets, Mayfields first album in more than five years, was released in early 1990, and he toured the United States, Europe, and Japan to promote it. Capitol Records was set to release the soundtrack to The Return of Superfly, a rap sampler featuring four original songs written and performed by Mayfield.

Then tragedy struck. On a windy summer night in August of 1990, Mayfield was getting set to start a concert at Wingate Field in Brooklyn. As he was plugging in his guitar, a gust of wind toppled a light tower near the stage, striking him in the head. The accident resulted in three broken vertebrae and paralysis for Mayfield from the neck down. After spending a week in a Brooklyn hospital, he was transferred to the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta. Keeping his spirits up, Mayfield began physical therapy in September of 1990 and made his first public appearance in February of 1991, when he donated $100,000 to set up the Curtis Mayfield Research Fund at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis in Florida. His family was reportedly hopeful that his physical therapy would enable him to make at least a partial recovery.

Mayfield might have been injured, but he wasnt forgotten. Various artists got together in 1994 to put out a tribute album in honor of the great Curtis Mayfield, including Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Lenny Kravitz, the Isley Brothers, and Bruce Springsteen. Mayfield himself got back into the recording studio to do All Men Are Brothers for the album. He told Guitar Player magazine that the album meant a lot to him. I was just overwhelmed. It brought tears to my eyes. As they would record them, they would send me copies of each. Id play them over and over, and there wasnt a song I didnt like. It just goes to show you that no matter how bad things might get, theres always room for something good to happen.

And Mayfields music stayed alive. Rhino Records came out with a three-CD boxed set of Mayfields music in 1996. It included music from his days with the Impressions through to his later solo career. In 1997 Mayfield released the new album New World Order. When asked how his music writing had changed since his accident, Mayfield told People Weekly, Its difficult simply because when an idea hits me, I cant just up and grab a guitar or recorder or a pencil and write it down. But Im happy to know I can still lock in lyrics, and I have enough voice and strength in my lungs to sing a song. As an even greater tribute to the man and his music, Mayfield was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 for his solo recordings.

On December 26, 1999, Mayfield died in Atlanta, Georgia of natural causes. Even though he had passed on, his music and career continue to be influential. In 2000 a two-hour musical celebration was held to commemorate Mayfields life and career at the First AME Church in Los Angeles. Performers such as Stevie Wonder, Lauryn Hill, the Impressions, Mayfields old band, and Danny Glover led the event. Also in 2000, Mayfield was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. It is a great tribute to a man who led many in their paths to musical art. As Eric Clapton told Guitar Player magazine, Curtis changed the course of modern music, bringing refinement, cool, and social comment to R&B and leading the way for songwriters, players, and singers in all fields of music. He [was] a great talent and inspiration to us all.

Selected discography

(With The Impressions) The Impressions, ABC-Paramount, 1963.

(With The Impressions) The Never Ending Impressions, ABC-Paramount, 1964.

(With The Impressions) Keep On Pushing, ABC-Paramount, 1964.

(With The Impressions) People Get Ready, ABC-Paramount, 1965.

(With The Impressions) Ridin High, ABC-Paramount, 1966.

(With The Impressions) The Fabulous Impressions, ABC-Paramount, 1967.

(With The Impressions) This Is My Country, Curtom, 1968.

(With The Impressions) Young Mods Forgotten Story, Curtom, 1969.

(With The Impressions) Check Out Your Mind, Curtom, 1970.

(With The Impressions) The Vintage Years: Featuring Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield, Sire, 1976.

Curtis, Curtom, 1970.

Curtis Live, Curtom, 1971.

Roots, Curtom, 1971.

Superfly (soundtrack), Curtom, 1972.

Back to the World, Curtom, 1973.

Sweet Exorcist, Curtom, 1974.

Got to Find a Way, Curtom, 1974.

Theres No Place Like America, Curtom, 1975.

Give Get Take and Have, Curtom, 1976.

Never Say You Cant Survive, Curtom, 1977.

Short Eyes (soundtrack), Curtom, 1977.

Do It All Night, Curtom, 1978.

Heartbeat, RSO/Curtom, 1978.

Something to Believe In, RSO/Curtom, 1979.

The Right Combination, RSO/Curtom, 1980.

Honesty, Boardwalk, 1982.

Take It to the Streets, Curtom, 1990.

The Return of Superfly (soundtrack), Capitol, 1990.

New World Order, 1996.

Sources

Books

Albert, George, and Frank Hoffman, editors, The Cashbox Black Contemporary Singles Charts, 1960-1984, Scarecrow, 1986.

Pruter, Robert, Chicago Soul, University of Illinois Press, 1991.

St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, 5 Volumes, St. James Press, 2000.

Whitburn, Joel, Joel Whitburns Top Pop Singles 1955-1990, Record Research, 1991.

,Joel Whitburns Top R&B Singles 1942-1988, Record Research, 1988.

Periodicals

Billboard, August 29, 1970; February 6, 1971; January 22, 1994, p. 1; January 13, 1996, p. 7; August 16, 1997 p. 12.

Chicago Tribune, September 2, 1990.

Detroit News, January 27, 1974.

Down Beat, November, 1999, p. 70; January, 2001, p. 72.

Ebony, July 1973.

Entertainment Weekly, October 11, 1996, p. 91; March 9, 2001, p. 80.

Guitar Player, August, 1991; June, 1994, p. 71; December, 1996, p. 29; April, 2000, p. 35.

Indianapolis Star, May 15, 1983.

Jet, March 14, 1994, p. 56; April 7, 1997, p. 42; July 13, 1998, p. 35; April 5, 1999, p. 26; March 13, 2000, p. 32; July 3, 2000, p. 34.

Los Angeles Times, October 23, 1989; August 26, 1990.

Michigan Chronicle, June 19, 1976.

Newsweek, October 14, 1996, p. 75; January 10, 2000, p. 9.

New York Times, December 6, 1970; May 6, 1983.

People Weekly, August 5, 1996, p. 24; February 17, 1997, p. 111; March 17, 1997, p. 41; January 1, 2000, p. 118.

David Bianco and Catherine V. Donaldson

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Mayfield, Curtis 1942–

Curtis Mayfield 1942

Singer, guitarist, songwriter, record company executive

At a Glance

Gospel Influence Proved Popular

Mayfield Doubled as Recording Executive

Solo Work Included Memorable Soundtracks

Selected discography

Sources

A native Chicagoan who had moved to Atlanta in 1980, Curtis Mayfield was enjoying the best comeback year of his career in 1990. His soul vocal group of the late 1950s and 1960s, the Impressions, had been nominated for a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a successful cover version of their 1961 hit Gypsy Woman had been recorded by Santana. Take It to the Streets, Mayfields first album in more than five years, was released in early 1990, and he had toured the United States, Europe, and Japan to promote it. Capitol Records was set to release the soundtrack to The Return of Superfly, a rap sampler featuring four original songs written and performed by Mayfield.

Then tragedy struck. On a windy summer night in August of 1990, Mayfield was getting set to start a concert at Wingate Field in Brooklyn. As he was plugging in his guitar, a gust of wind toppled a light tower near the stage, striking him in the head. The accident resulted in three broken vertebrae and paralysis for Mayfield from the neck down. After spending a week in a Brooklyn hospital, he was transferred to the Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta. Keeping his spirits up, Mayfield began physical therapy in September of 1990 and made his first public appearance in February of 1991, when he donated $100,000 to set up the Curtis Mayfield Research Fund at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis in Florida. His family is reportedly hopeful that his physical therapy will enable him to make at least a partial recovery.

Born on June 3, 1942, Curtis Lee Mayfield grew up in a poor family that moved from neighborhood to neighborhood in Chicago. By the time he was in high school, his family had settled in the Cabrini-Green projects on Chicagos North Side. Mayfields strongest early musical influence came from his membership in a local gospel group called the Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers, which included three cousins and Jerry Butler. As Mayfield told the Detroit News in 1974, I was writing music when I was 10 or 11 years old. Mayfields grandmother was a preacher in the Traveling Souls Spiritualist Church, and traces of church and gospel music are evident in many of his compositions. Mayfield attended Wells High School on Chicagos North Side along with another popular singer, Major Lance, but he left when he was in the tenth grade to begin performing with the Impressions.

At a Glance

Born Curtis Lee Mayfield, June 3, 1942, in Chicago, IL; married three times; children: eleven. Left high school in the tenth grade to begin performing with the Impressions; lead singer and songwriter with the Impressions, 1958-70; Curtom Record and Publishing Co., owner, 1970; solo performer in the 1970s and 1980s; composer of soundtracks for several films, including Superfly. Paralyzed in a freak accident just before a concert in August of 1990.

The Impressions began playing around 1956 as the Roosters in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with Fred Cash, Sam Gooden, Emanuel Thomas, and the brothers Richard and Arthur Brooks. Seeking to advance their musical careers, Gooden and the Brooks brothers went north to Chicago in 1957 and moved to the North Side in the Cabrini-Green projects. Jerry Butler was a senior in high school at the time, and he acted as a replacement for the vocalists who had stayed in Tennessee. Butler encouraged Mayfield to join the group, saying they needed someone who could play an instrument and who could help us get our harmony together, as quoted by Robert Pruter in Chicago Soul. By this time, Mayfield was writing gospel-influenced songs and had learned how to play the guitar.

The group made some early recordings for the Bandera label and were then discovered by Eddie Thomas of Vee Jay records, who became their manager and changed their name to the Impressions. Vee Jay and Chess records were two of Chicagos major rhythm and blues labels of the time, and the Impressions made their first record for Vee Jay about six months after Mayfield joined the group. Released on the companys subsidiary label, Falcon, For Your Precious Love featured Jerry Butlers lead vocals. Its first issue sold over nine hundred thousand copies. Vee Jays A&R man Calvin Carter signed them immediately after hearing the song, which he reportedly liked for its spiritual feel, a genuine departure from the doo-wop harmonies of the day.

Vee Jay promoted the group as Jerry Butler and the Impressions and developed Butler as a solo artist. After three singles, Butler left the group to go out on his own. As Mayfield told Pruter, When Jerry left it allowed me to generate and pull out my own talents as a writer and a vocalist. Mayfields soprano singing contrasted with Butlers baritone leads. The group released a few singles with Mayfield as leader and then was dropped by Vee Jay. From 1959 to 1961, the Impressions temporarily split up, and Mayfield began writing songs and playing guitar for Butler in 1960.

Gospel Influence Proved Popular

By 1961 Mayfield had saved enough moneyabout a thousand dollarsto regroup the Impressions and take them to New York to arrange a recording session. In July they recorded Gypsy Woman for ABC-Paramount. Mayfield was only 18 when the group signed with ABC-Paramount, and it was the beginning of a seven-year string of popular and rhythm and blues hits that were all composed by Mayfield. Mayfield, Sam Gooden, Fred Cash, and Arthur and Richard Brooks sang on Gypsy Woman. The Brooks brothers left the Impressions in 1962, and the remaining members continued as a trio throughout the 1960s.

In 1963 the group recorded Its All Right, which Pruter termed the first single to define the classic style of the 1960s Impressions. Producer Jerry Pate lifted the energy level considerably, adding blaring horns and a more forceful, percussive bottom, wrote Pruter. Its All Right was a crossover hit that went to Number Four on the pop charts and Number One on the rhythm and blues charts in the fall of 1963. The song featured the lead switching off from among the three and the two others singing in harmony with the lead, commented Pruter. It was a fresh new sound in rhythm and blues, but critics have noted that it came directly from Mayfields gospel singing experience.

In 1964 the Impressions became a major act with a series of strong singles that included Im So Proud, Keep On Pushing, and Amen. Mayfield was apparently inspired by the emergence of the civil rights movement. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jesse Jackson adopted Keep On Pushing as an unofficial theme song for the movement. Dan Kening, writing in the Chicago Tribune, proclaimed that Mayfields inspirational lyrics reflected a strong black consciousness while preaching the tenets of hard work, persistence, and faith as the key to achieving equality.

The group peaked with their best material in 1965 when they released People Get Ready, a song with heavy gospel imagery and feeling. The album of the same name included such songs as Womans Got Soul and the churchy Meeting Over Yonder. Following this peak, the group was less successful and had fewer hits. In 1967, Were a Winner managed to reach Number 14 on Billboards pop charts, in spite of the fact that many white radio stations, including Chicagos WLS, would not play it. That song, and its follow-up, Were Rolling On, also caused black radio stations problems in the late 1960s. As Pruter wrote, Surprisingly at that time, black radio had not kept pace with its black constituency and there was a lot of resistance by programmers over playing such overtly political songs. The popularity of those songs [Were a Winner and Were Rolling On] had the effect of pushing black radio in the direction its listeners were going.

Mayfield Doubled as Recording Executive

In addition to composing, singing, and playing the guitar, Mayfield was also interested in setting up his own record label. In 1960, at the age of 21, he made the unprecedented move of establishing his own music publishing company, Curtom, while recording at Vee Jay. Mayfield began setting up two labels in 1966, Mayfield and Windy C., but it was in 1968 that he established his most successful label, Curtom. He took the Impressions away from ABC and also recorded and produced such artists as Major Lance, Baby Huey and the Babysitters, and the Five Stairsteps. Mayfields songwriting and producing abilities were a key factor in the labels success, which enjoyed distribution by Buddah from 1968 to 1975 and by Warner Bros. from 1975 until Mayfield folded the label in 1980.

Mayfield announced his departure from the Impressions in August of 1970. He began his solo career in 1971, offering a biting commentary of the American scene and impressions of oppressed people, according to a review in Billboard. A New York Times music critic said of his first solo album, Curtis: Mayfield himself continues to be a kind of contemporary preacher-through-music. He sings in a breathlessly high, pure voice, breaking his phrases into speech-like patterns, his rhythms pushed by the urgency of his thoughts. He is not a lyrical singer, and his message seems as important to him as his melody. Including songs of up to ten minutes in length, Curtis established Mayfield as an album rather than a singles artist.

Solo Work Included Memorable Soundtracks

Mayfield began a successful career writing soundtracks for films with the 1972 movie Superfly. Somewhat controversial, the film glorified the life of a drug pusher and was part of the then-popular genre of blaxploitation films. According to a New York Times review, Mayfields music is more specifically anti-drugs than the philosophical content of the movie, and it is also considerably more stylish in design and execution. Two top-ten hit singles resulted from the soundtrack: Freddies Dead and Superfly.

Throughout the 1970s, Mayfield continued to write soundtracks for several films and solidified his reputation as a solo artist. Mayfields solo career featured harder sounding songs than he wrote for the Impressions, with didactic lyrics and social commentary. In spite of adverse criticism, Pruter assessed Mayfields 1970s output positively, writing, Some of the very best black popular music of the 1970s came from Mayfield, who despite the many misses during the decade was one of the creative leaders in establishing a new contemporary style of rhythm and blues, one with a militant, harder edge.

The Impressions regrouped in 1983 for a reunion tour. Original members Butler, Mayfield, Gooden, and Cash performed the 1960s hits of the Impressions along with the solo hits of Butler and Mayfield. As reviewed by Robert Palmer in the New York Times, the performances amounted to a capsule history of recent black popular music, from the slick doo-wop and grittier gospel-based vocal group styles of the 1950s to Mr. Butlers urbane pop-soul, Curtis Mayfields soul message songs and later funk, and the styles the Impressions have tackled as a group. Palmer continued: The Impressions were one of the two top rhythm-and-blues vocal groups of the 1960s; the other was the Temptations. Both were rooted in the rich traditions of black gospel music.

Mayfields influence on a new generation of listeners is evident in many ways. His 1960s compositions for the Impressions have enjoyed numerous cover versions from a wide range of popular singers. And some critics have suggested that his anti-drug messages, most emphatically expressed in the songs for Superfly, fit well with the new films created by young black filmmakers. Popular rap singer and actor Ice-T, who sang on Superfly 1990 with Mayfield, said in tribute to the artist, Theres only been a couple of people Ive met [in the music business] that to me are really heavy. Curtis is one of them.

Selected discography

Selected singles

With the Impressions

Listen to Me, Bandera, 1957.

(As Jerry Butler and the Impressions) For Your Precious Love, Falcon, 1958.

Say That You Love Me, Abner, 1959.

Gypsy Woman, ABC-Paramount, 1961.

Grow Closer Together, ABC-Paramount, 1962.

Little Young Lover, ABC-Paramount, 1962.

Im the One Who Loves You, ABC-Paramount, 1963.

Its All Right, ABC-Paramount, 1963.

Talking About My Baby, ABC-Paramount, 1964.

Im So Proud, ABC-Paramount, 1964.

Keep On Pushing, ABC-Paramount, 1964.

You Must Believe Me, ABC-Paramount, 1964.

Amen, ABC-Paramount, 1964.

People Get Ready, ABC-Paramount, 1965.

Womans Got Soul, ABC-Paramount, 1965.

Meeting Over Yonder, ABC-Paramount, 1965.

I Need You, ABC-Paramount, 1965.

Cant Satisfy, ABC, 1966.

I Cant Stay Away From You, ABC, 1967.

Were a Winner, ABC, 1967.

Were Rolling On (part 1), ABC, 1968.

Dont Cry My Love, ABC, 1968.

Fool for You, Curtom, 1968.

This Is My Country, Curtom, 1968.

Check Out Your Mind, Curtom, 1970.

(Baby) Turn On to Me, Curtom, 1970.

Aint Got Time, Curtom, 1971.

Solo

Get Down, Curtom, 1971.

We Got to Have Peace, Curtom, 1972.

Beautiful Brother of Mine, Curtom, 1972.

Freddies Dead (theme from Superfly ), Curtom, 1972.

Superfly, Curtom, 1972.

Future Shock, Curtom, 1973.

Sweet Exorcist, Curtom, 1974.

Mothers Son, Curtom, 1975.

So in Love, Curtom, 1975.

Show Me Love, Curtom, 1977.

You Are, You Are, Curtom, 1978.

Do It All Night, Curtom, 1978.

(With Linda Clifford) Between You Baby and Me, RSO, 1979.

(With Linda Clifford) Loves Sweet Sensation, RSO, 1980.

She Dont Let Nobody (But Me), Boardwalk, 1981.

Baby Its You, CRC, 1985.

(With Ice-T) Superfly 1990, Curtom, 1990.

Albums

With the Impressions

The Impressions, ABC-Paramount, 1963.

The Never Ending Impressions, ABC-Paramount, 1964.

Keep On Pushing, ABC-Paramount, 1964.

People Get Ready, ABC-Paramount, 1965.

Ridin High, ABC-Paramount, 1966.

The Fabulous Impressions, ABC-Paramount, 1967.

This Is My Country, Curtom, 1968.

Young Mods Forgotten Story, Curtom, 1969.

Check Out Your Mind, Curtom, 1970.

The Vintage Years: Featuring Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield, Sire, 1976.

Solo

Curtis, Curtom, 1970.

Curtis Live, Curtom, 1971.

Roots, Curtom, 1971.

Superfly (soundtrack), Curtom, 1972.

Back to the World, Curtom, 1973.

Sweet Exorcist, Curtom, 1974.

Got to Find a Way, Curtom, 1974.

Theres No Place Like America, Curtom, 1975.

Give Get Take and Have, Curtom, 1976.

Never Say You Cant Survive, Curtom, 1977.

Short Eyes (soundtrack), Curtom, 1977.

Do It All Night, Curtom, 1978.

Heartbeat, RSO/Curtom, 1978.

Something to Believe In, RSO/Curtom, 1979.

The Right Combination, RSO/Curtom, 1980.

Honesty, Boardwalk, 1982.

Take It to the Streets, Curtom, 1990.

The Return of Superfly (soundtrack), Capitol, 1990.

Sources

Books

Albert, George, and Frank Hoffman, editors, The Cashbox Black Contemporary Singles Charts, 1960-1984, Scarecrow, 1986.

Pruter, Robert, Chicago Soul, University of Illinois Press, 1991.

Whitburn, Joel, Joel Whitburns Top Pop Singles 1955-1990, Record Research, 1991.

Whitburn, Joel, Joel Whitburns Top R&B Singles 1942-1988, Record Research, 1988.

Periodicals

Billboard, August 29, 1970; February 6, 1971.

Chicago Tribune, September 2, 1990.

Detroit News, January 27, 1974.

Ebony, July 1973.

Guitar Player, August 1991.

Indianapolis Star, May 15, 1983.

Los Angeles Times, October 23, 1989; August 26, 1990.

Michigan Chronicle, June 19, 1976.

New York Times, December 6, 1970; May 6, 1983.

David Bianco

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Mayfield, Curtis

Curtis Mayfield

Singer, songwriter, guitarist, record company executive

Quit the Tenth Grade to Join Impressions

First Stint as Lead Singer a Disappointment

Impressions on Top

Founded Music Publishing Company at 21

Solidified Position as Solo Artist

Selected discography

Sources

In 1990, Curtis Mayfield was enjoying a comeback. His soul vocal group of the late 1950s and 1960s, the Impressions, had been nominated for a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a successful cover version of their 1961 hit Gypsy Woman had been recorded by the popular rock band Santana. Take It to the Streets, Mayfields first album in more than five years, was released in early 1990, and he had toured the United States, Europe, and Japan to promote it. And Capitol Records was set to release the soundtrack to The Return of Superfly, a rap sampler featuring four original songs written and performed by Mayfield.

Then tragedy struck. On a windy summer night in August of 1990, Mayfield was getting set to start a concert at Wingate Field in Brooklyn. As he was plugging in his guitar, a gust of wind toppled a light tower near the stage, striking Mayfield in the head. The accident resulted in three broken vertebrae and quad-riplegia. Remarkably keeping his spirits up, however, Mayfield began physical therapy in September of 1990 and made his first public appearance in February of 1991, when he donated $100,000 to establish the Curtis Mayfield Research Fund at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. Friends and family were reportedly hopeful that Mayfields therapy would enable him to make at least a partial recovery.

Quit the Tenth Grade to Join Impressions

Born on June 3, 1942, Curtis Lee Mayfield grew up in a poor Chicago family that moved from neighborhood to neighborhood. By the time he was in high school his family had settled in the Cabrini-Green public housing projects on the citys north side. Mayfields strongest early musical influence came from his membership in a local gospel group called the Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers, which included three cousins and acquaintance Jerry Butler. Mayfield told the Detroit News in 1974, I was writing music when I was 10 or 11 years old. Mayfields grandmother was a preacher in the Traveling Souls Spiritualist Church, and traces of church and gospel music are unmistakable in many of his compositions. Mayfield attended Chicagos Wells High School but left in the tenth grade to join what would become the Impressions.

The Impressions began performing in the mid-1950s as the Roosters, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, their lineup comprised of Fred Cash, Sam Gooden, Emanuel Thomas, and the brothers Richard and Arthur Brooks. Seeking to advance their musical careers, Gooden and the Brooks brothers went north to Chicago in 1957, settling in the Cabrini-Green projects. Jerry Butler was a senior in high school at the time, and he acted as a

For the Record

Born Curtis Lee Mayfield, June 3, 1942, in Chicago, IL; married three times; eleven children.

Began writing music c. 1952; performed with the Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers, early 1950s; lead singer and songwriter for the Impressions, 195870; solo recording and performing artist, 1971; established Curtom music publishing company, 1960, and Curtom record label, 1968. Composer of soundtracks for films, including Superfly.

Addresses: Office Curtom Records of Atlanta, Inc., 1770 Austin Rd. S.W., Atlanta, GA 30331.

replacement for the Impressions vocalists who had stayed behind in Tennessee. According to Robert Pruter in Chicago Soul, Butler encouraged Mayfield to join the group, saying they needed someone who could play an instrument and who could help us get our harmony together. By this time, Mayfield was writing gospel-influenced songs and had learned to play the guitar.

The group made some early recordings for the Bandera label and were then discovered by Eddie Thomas of Vee Jay Records, who became their manager and changed their name to the Impressions. The single For Your Precious Love was released on the companys subsidiary label, Falcon, and featured Jerry Butlers lead vocals. Its first issue sold over 900,000 copies. A Vee Jay executive signed the Impressions to a recording contract immediately after hearing the song, which he reportedly liked for its spiritual feela genuine departure from the doo-wop harmonies of the day.

First Stint as Lead Singer a Disappointment

Vee Jay promoted the group as Jerry Butler and the Impressions and developed Butler as a solo artist. After three singles, Butler left the group to go out on his own. Mayfield told Pruter, When Jerry left it allowed me to generate and pull out my own talents as a writer and a vocalist. Mayfields soprano singing, however, contrasted sharply with Butlers baritone leads. The group released a few singles with Mayfield as leader and was then dropped by Vee Jay. From 1959 to 1961, the Impressions did not work as a group; Mayfield began writing songs and playing guitar for Butler in 1960.

By 1961 Mayfield had saved enough moneyabout a thousand dollarsto regroup the Impressions and take them to New York City to arrange a recording session. In July of that year they recorded Gypsy Woman for ABC-Paramount. Mayfield was only 18 when the group signed with ABC-Paramount. Gypsy Woman was the beginning of a seven-year string of rhythm and blues and pop hitsall composed by Mayfield. The Brooks brothers left the Impressions in 1962; the remaining members continued as a trio throughout the 1960s.

In 1963 the group recorded Its All Right, which Chicago Souls Pruter termed the first single to define the classic style of the 1960s Impressions. Producer Jerry Pate lifted the energy level considerably, adding blaring horns and a more forceful, percussive bottom, wrote Pruter. Its All Right was a crossover hit that went to Number Four on the pop charts and Number One on the rhythm and blues charts in the fall of 1963. The song featured the lead switching off from among the three [group members] and the two others singing in harmony with the lead, elaborated Pruter. Though the song represented a new sound in rhythm and blues, critics have long noted that the feel of Its All Right sprung directly from Mayfields gospel experience.

Impressions on Top

In 1964 the Impressions became a major act with a series of strong singles that included Im So Proud, Keep On Pushing, and Amen. By most accounts, Mayfield was profoundly motivated by the emergence of the civil rights movement. Civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jesse Jackson adopted Keep On Pushing as an unofficial theme song for the movement. Chicago Tribune contributor Dan Kening wrote that Mayfields inspirational lyrics reflected a strong black consciousness while preaching the tenets of hard work, persistence, and faith as the key to achieving equality.

The group was at their peak in 1965 when they released People Get Ready, a song featuring heavy gospel imagery and feeling. But by 1967 their hold on the market had begun to fade. Compounding this was the fact that in the late 1960s some relatively popular Impressions single releases were ill-received by black radio stations. As Pruter reported, Surprisingly at that time, black radio had not kept pace with its black constituency and there was a lot of resistance by programmers over playing such overtly political songs. The popularity of those songs had the effect of pushing black radio in the direction its listeners were going.

Founded Music Publishing Company at 21

In addition to composing, singing, and playing the guitar, Mayfield was also interested in setting up his own record label. In 1960, at the age of 21, he made the unprecedented move of establishing his own music publishing company, Curtom, while recording at Vee Jay. Mayfield began developing two labels in 1966, Mayfield and Windy C., but it was in 1968 that he founded his most successful label, also called Curtom. The budding entrepreneur took the Impressions away from ABC and also recorded and produced other acts. Mayfields songwriting and producing abilities were a key factor in the labels success.

In August of 1970 Mayfield announced his departure from the Impressions. He began his solo career the following year, offering a biting commentary of the American scene and impressions of oppressed people, according to a review in Billboard. A New York Times music critic said of his first solo album, Curtis: Mayfield himself continues to be a kind of contemporary preacher-through-music. He sings in a breathlessly high, pure voice, breaking his phrases into speech-like patterns, his rhythms pushed by the urgency of his thoughts. His message seems as important to him as his melody. Including songs of up to ten minutes, Curtis established Mayfield as an album rather than a singles artist.

Mayfield began a successful career writing soundtracks for films with the 1972 movie Superfly. The controversial film depicted the life of a drug dealer and was part of the then-popular genre of blaxploitation films. According to a New York Times review, Mayfields music is more specifically anti-drugs than the philosophical content of the movie, and it is also considerably more stylish in design and execution. Two Top Ten hit singles resulted from the soundtrack: Freddies Dead and Superfly.

Solidified Position as Solo Artist

Throughout the 1970s Mayfield continued to write soundtracks and solidify his reputation as a solo artist. His solo compositions featured a more intense style than was expressed in those he had written for the Impressions; instructive lyrics and social commentary were the norm. Bucking pervasive negative criticism, Pruter assessed Mayfields 1970s output positively, writing, Some of the very best black popular music of the 1970s came from Mayfield, who despite the many misses during the decade was one of the creative leaders in establishing a new contemporary style of rhythm and blues, one with a militant, harder edge.

Mayfield joined the Impressions in 1983 for a reunion tour. Original members Butler, Mayfield, Gooden, and Cash performed the 1960s hits of the Impressions along with Butler and Mayfields more popular solo efforts. According to Robert Palmer of the New York Times, the performances amounted to a capsule history of recent black popular music, from the slick doo-wop and grittier gospel-based vocal group styles of the 1950s to Mr. Butlers urbane pop-soul, Curtis Mayfields soul message songs and later funk, and the styles the Impressions have tackled as a group.

Mayfields influence on a new generation of performers is widely evident. His 1960s compositions for the Impressions have enjoyed numerous cover versions from a wide range of popular singers. Mayfields characteristic falsetto and innovative guitar workthe latter a clear inspiration to guitar colossus Jimi Hendrixhelped set a new standard for contemporary music. And critics have pointed out that his anti-drug messages, most emphatically expressed in the songs for Superfly, are echoed in the films of the young black filmmakers who gained prominence in the late 1980s. Controversial rap singer and actor Ice-T, who lent vocals to Superfly 1990, said in tribute to the artist, Theres only been a couple of people Ive met [in the music business] that to me are really heavy. Curtis is one of them.

Selected discography

Singles; with the Impressions

(As Jerry Butler and the Impressions) For Your Precious Love, Falcon, 1958.

Gypsy Woman, ABC-Paramount, 1961.

Its All Right, ABC-Paramount, 1963.

Im So Proud, ABC-Paramount, 1964.

Keep On Pushing, ABC-Paramount, 1964.

Amen, ABC-Paramount, 1964.

People Get Ready, ABC-Paramount, 1965.

Albums; with the Impressions

The Impressions, ABC-Paramount, 1963.

The Never Ending Impressions, ABC-Paramount, 1964.

Keep On Pushing, ABC-Paramount, 1964.

People Get Ready, ABC-Paramount, 1965.

Ridin High, ABC-Paramount, 1966.

The Fabulous Impressions, ABC-Paramount, 1967.

This Is My Country, Curtom, 1968.

Young Mods Forgotten Story, Curtom, 1969.

Check Out Your Mind, Curtom, 1970.

The Vintage Years: Featuring Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield, Sire, 1976.

Albums; solo

Curtis, Curtom, 1970.

Curtis Live, Curtom, 1971.

Roots, Curtom, 1971.

Superfly (soundtrack; includes Freddies Dead), Curtom, 1972.

Back to the World, Curtom, 1973.

Sweet Exorcist, Curtom, 1974.

Got to Find a Way, Curtom, 1974.

Theres No Place Like America, Curtom, 1975.

Give Get Take and Have, Curtom, 1976.

Never Say You Cant Survive, Curtom, 1977.

Short Eyes (soundtrack), Curtom, 1977.

Do It All Night, Curtom, 1978.

Heartbeat, RSO/Curtom, 1978.

Something to Believe In, RSO/Curtom, 1979.

The Right Combination, RSO/Curtom, 1980.

Honesty, Boardwalk, 1982.

Take It to the Streets, Curtom, 1990.

The Return of Superfly (soundtrack; includes Superfly 1990), Capitol, 1990.

Sources

Books

Pruter, Robert, Chicago Soul, University of Illinois Press, 1991.

Periodicals

Billboard, August 29, 1970; February 6, 1971.

Chicago Tribune, September 2, 1990.

Detroit News, January 27, 1974.

Ebony, July 1973.

Guitar Player, August 1991.

Indianapolis Star, May 15, 1983.

Los Angeles Times, October 23, 1989; August 26, 1990.

Michigan Chronicle, June 19, 1976.

New York Times, December 6, 1970; May 6, 1983.

David Bianco

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"Mayfield, Curtis." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Mayfield, Curtis." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mayfield-curtis

"Mayfield, Curtis." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mayfield-curtis