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Curtis Mayfield first came to prominence as lead singer of the Impressions with ‘Gypsy Woman’ (ABC/’61). His background was one of poverty but his family through the matriarchal line of his mother Marion and his grandmother Annabell Mayfield was strong and supportive. Annabell administered as a preacher in her own shop front Travelling Souls Spiritualist Church. At the tender age of seven Curtis joined the church choir, the Northern Jubilee Singers, a quintet that included three cousins and life long friend Jerry Butler. Butler and Mayfield collaborated often over the years to come. Jerry and Curtis formed the Impressions and had a huge US hit with their first record ‘For Your Precious Love’ (Falcon/Abner ’58). They could not repeat their hit formula however and Butler went solo in late ’58. Under the guidance of Curtis, the Impressions grew to become one of the most influential vocal groups in America by the mid sixties. They scored 50 US R&B hit singles between 1958-’87 most converting to pop hits into the mid 70s.
Curtis went solo in 1970 and scored an international hit with his first record ‘(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going To Go’. Mayfield was a prolific songwriter, producer and arranger whose influence became indelible in the generations of musicians that followed. In addition to writing many hits for himself and the Impressions, Curtis’ pen supplied even more wonderful songs for Jerry and Billy Butler, Major Lance, Gene Chandler, Barbara Mason, Donny Hathaway, Aretha Franklin, Staples Singers and inspired Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Paul Weller and countless others. Mayfield’s career hit ‘Freddie’s Dead’ was written for the movie Superfly in ’72, it went gold along with the title track and the soundtrack album and set Curtis on the road to international stardom. He wrote several other movie scores including Claudine and Let’s Do It Again in ‘74, Sparkle (’76) and the artistically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful Short Eyes (’77).
He is best known in Europe for ‘Move On Up’ that became an anthem of inspiration everywhere but in the States where it was not a hit. Mayfield was among the first black artists to form his own publishing house and record labels (Curtom). His annual tours won him millions of fans across the world and in August ’90 while performing at a MLK charity concert at Wingate Field, Brooklyn, Curtis was crushed beneath a lighting tower as it fell into the stage. This tragic accident rendered him a quadriplegic, unable to move his body below the neck.
Despite a number of attempts at corrective surgery in the following years Mayfield never recovered the use of his arms and legs and eventually died in an Atlanta Hospital in December ’99. He left an amazing legacy of music behind him that will entertain and illuminate for many years to come. Not least of his fine albums was his last New World Order (’96); it was not only a beautiful collection of songs but a staggering achievement given Curtis’ physical condition at the time. To write, produce and create such a wonderful album under these circumstances was his final inspiration to us all.

Peter Burns August ’04

Other SoulMusicHQ references
Impressions
Jerry Butler
Billy Butler

More research available by email
from SoulMusicHQ.com
Discography
Sessionography
Photographic & graphic scans

Recommended reading
‘People Never Give Up’ Peter Burns – Published by Sanctuary /03

Recommended listening
Love Peace Understanding 3CD Box (49) UK Sequel NXT CD 286 /96
Superfly/Short Eyes//Soundtracks (17) UK Sequel NEMCD 964 /98
Curtis/Got To Find A Way (14) UK Sequel NEMCD 965
Roots/Sweet Exorcist (14) UK Sequel NEMCD 966
Back To The World/Love (24) UK Sequel NEMCD 967
...America Today/Give, Get, Take & Have (15) UK Sequel NEMCD 401
Never Say You Can't Survive/Do It All Night (14) UK Sequel NEMCD 440
Heartbeat/Something To Believe In (15) UK Sequel NEMCD 446
We Come In Peace…/Take It To The Streets (15) UK Sequel NEMCD 447
Move On Up-The Singles (39 UK Sequel NEECD 320 /99
People Get Ready Box Set 3CD (51) US Rhino R2 72262


 
   
   
             
               
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