Curtis Mayfield

  • Soul/funk/R&B guitarist, singer, and songwriter born in 1942 from Chicago Illinois. Died in 1999 of diabetes.
  • As a child, his mother taught him the piano, and he became involved in church gospel groups. At 14, he formed a gospel choir called The Alphatones, and later that year, he joined a high school friend’s soul and R&B group called The Roosters, which 2 years later became The Impressions.
  • In 1958, The Impressions were signed to a record deal, and they had a hit single, For Your Precious Love. Soon, Mayfield became the lead singer and songwriter of the group. From 1958 to 1970, Mayfield remained with the group, releasing 12 studio albums, with 12 singles reaching the top 10 of the Billboard R&B chart, 3 of which were #1 hits – It’s All Right, We’re A Winner, and Choice of Colors. Their songs People Get Ready and For Your Precious Love are on Rolling Stone’s Greatest Song list, at #24 and #327 respectively. The band became known for social consciousness in their songs, promoting Black Pride and the civil rights movement.
  • He began a solo career in 1970. His debut solo album, Curtis, topped the R&B chart – his first of 5 albums to hit #1. His third studio album was his most successful – 1972’s Superfly, the soundtrack to the film of the same name. The album is one of the few soundtracks to actually make more money than the movie itself. The 2 singles from the album, Freddy’s Dead and the title track Superfly, were million-selling songs, peaking at #4 and #8 respectively on the Hot 100 chart, and even higher on the R&B chart. Superfly was one of the earliest versions of socially concious funk soul music. Rolling Stone puts the album at #72 on its list of the Greatest Albums of All Time, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame selected the title track as one of the “500 songs that shaped rock & roll.”
  • Mayfield’s success with Superfly opened the door to several other soundtrack compositions. He produced 4 more soundtrack albums in the 70s, including #1 albums Claudine (music performed by Gladys Knight and the Pips) and Sparkle (music performed by Aretha Franklin).
  • In total, as a solo artist, Mayfield released 17 studio albums, 4 live albums, and 6 soundtrack albums. Between 1970 and 1997, singles that charted totalled 34, mostly on the R&B chart, with 6 breaking into the top 10. He also was a prolific writer for other artists – between 1960 and 1994, his songs charted 68 times with other artists, including songs by Gene Chandler, The Righteous Brothers, The Five Stairsteps, Gladys Knight, Tony Orlando and Dawn, Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples, Bob Marley, En Vogue and The Isley Brothers.
  • In 1990, Mayfield was paralyzed from the neck down when some equipment fell on him during a concert. After that, he was unable to play the guitar, but he continued to write music and sing – for his final album, New World Order in 1996, his vocals were recorded with him laying on his back. Later, he had a leg amputated because of diabetes, and ultimately, he died from the disease in 1999.
  • He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice – as a member of The Impressions in 1991, and as a solo artist in 1999. He won the Grammy Legends Award in 1994, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995, and he was a two time Grammy Hall of Fame inductee (as a solo artist for the Superfly album, and for the song People Get Ready with The Impressions). He is ranked #98 on Rolling Stone’s Greatest Artist list.
  • Mayfield is a legend of soul music. His music, most of which had a message of hope in the face of oppression, was groundbreaking. Here is my favorite, Superfly.

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