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Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions

Perhaps because he didn't cross over to the pop audience as heavily as Motown's stars, it may be that the scope of Curtis Mayfield's talents and contributions have yet to be fully recognized. Judged merely by his records alone, the man's legacy is enormous. As the leader of the Impressions, he recorded some of the finest soul vocal group music of the 1960s. As a solo artist in the 1970s, he helped pioneer funk and helped introduce hard-hitting urban commentary into soul music. "Gypsy Woman," "It's All Right," "People Get Ready," "Freddie's Dead," and "Super Fly" are merely the most famous of his many hit records.

But Curtis Mayfield wasn't just a singer. He wrote most of his material at a time when that was not the norm for soul performers. He was among the first -- if not the very first -- to speak openly about African-American pride and community struggle in his compositions. As a songwriter and a producer, he was a key architect of Chicago soul, penning material and working on sessions by notable Windy City soulsters like Gene Chandler, Jerry Butler, Major Lance, and Billy Butler. In this sense, he can be compared to Smokey Robinson, who also managed to find time to write and produce many classics for other soul stars. Mayfield was also an excellent guitarist, and his rolling, Latin-influenced lines were highlights of the Impressions' recordings in the '60s. During the next decade, he would toughen up his guitar work and production, incorporating some of the best features of psychedelic rock and funk.

Mayfield began his career as an associate of Jerry Butler, with whom he formed the Impressions in the late '50s. After the Impressions had a big hit in 1958 with "For Your Precious Love," Butler, who had sung lead on the record, split to start a solo career. Mayfield, while keeping the Impressions together, continued to write for and tour with Butler before the Impressions got their first Top 20 hit in 1961, "Gypsy Woman."

Mayfield was heavily steeped in gospel music before he entered the pop arena, and gospel, as well as doo wop, influences would figure prominently in most of his '60s work. Mayfield wasn't a staunch traditionalist, however. He and the Impressions may have often worked the call-and-response gospel style, but his songs (romantic and otherwise) were often veiled or unveiled messages of black pride, reflecting the increased confidence and self-determination of the African-American community. Musically he was an innovator as well, using arrangements that employed the punchy, blaring horns and Latin-influenced rhythms that came to be trademark flourishes of Chicago soul. As the staff producer for the OKeh label, Mayfield was also instrumental in lending his talents to the work of other Chi-town soul singers who went on to national success. With Mayfield singing lead and playing guitar, the Impressions had 14 Top 40 hits in the 1960s (five made the Top 20 in 1964 alone), and released some above-average albums during that period as well.

Given Mayfield's prodigious talents, it was perhaps inevitable that he would eventually leave the Impressions to begin a solo career, as he did in 1970. His first few singles boasted a harder, more funk-driven sound; singles like "(Don't Worry) If There's a Hell Below, We're All Gonna Go" found him confronting ghetto life with a realism that had rarely been heard on record. He really didn't hit his artistic or commercial stride as a solo artist, though, until Super Fly, his soundtrack to a 1972 blaxploitation film. Drug deals, ghetto shootings, the death of young black men before their time: all were described in penetrating detail. Yet Mayfield's irrepressible falsetto vocals, uplifting melodies, and fabulous funk pop arrangements gave the oft-moralizing material a graceful strength that few others could have achieved. For all the glory of his past work, Superfly stands as his crowning achievement, not to mention a much-needed counterpoint to the sensationalistic portrayals of the film itself.

At this point Mayfield, along with Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, was the foremost exponent of a new level of compelling auteurism in soul. His failure to maintain the standards of Super Fly qualifies as one of the great disappointments in the history of black popular music. Perhaps he'd simply reached his peak after a long climb, but the rest of his '70s work didn't match the musical brilliance and lyrical subtleties of Super Fly, although he had a few large R&B hits in a much more conventional vein, such as "Kung Fu," "So in Love," and "Only You Babe."

Mayfield had a couple of hits in the early '80s, but the decade generally found his commercial fortunes in a steady downward spiral, despite some intermittent albums. On August 14, 1990, he became paralyzed from the neck down when a lighting rig fell on top of him at a concert in Brooklyn, NY. In the mid-'90s, a couple of tribute albums consisting of Mayfield covers appeared, with contributions by such superstars as Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, and Gladys Knight. Though no substitute for the man himself, these tributes served as an indication of the enormous regard in which Mayfield was still held by his peers. He died December 26, 1999 at the age of 57. ~ Richie Unterberger, Rovi
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Comments

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This music is off the chain it.s take me back to that era.
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Robert gone too soon R.I.P.
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Old school is the best school
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mon54jae

Monica Rolf (Mon'Jae)

WOW! all of a sudden I found myself back in this era of time this is true music, mellow, relaxing, no violence just straight smoothness. Curtis Mayfield a Legend in his own rights. My favorite song The Makings of You I even called my oldest son and was teasing that He don't know anything about this, then he said I'm going to go to You-Tube and download it. I even got it as my ring tone on my phone. Man! gone to soon but truly not forgotten. R.I.P.
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Leaving the gym with a Mayfield state of mind!
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buttercream5 9
I am missing his music
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Get ready truth
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weatcheck007
Those were the days
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This can tell a story....
If you had a old school romance,
It will take you away....Awww w w w !
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Take em back Curtis I cn relate 2 that.
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The Curtwood
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thadausjacks o n
Message music!! Good melodies and actually saying something, nothing degrading, no cussing, we need more of this.
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Gonna Have To Give It Up was heartbreakin g , and my little girls LOVED Miss Black America. But it brought me to tears the day of Obama's 2008 inauguration when Morning Joe played People Get Ready as the intro.
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Hallelujah! Keep on pushing! My dad loved The Impressions and Curtis Mayfield. Dad and mom played The Impressions music all the time! RIP Daddy and Curtis Mayfield.
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Right on.
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Freddie Freddie what u gonna do???
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Grew up loving his music
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wow! It just does not get much better than Curtis Mayfield...T a l k about gone to Soon Yes indeed.. Can you imagine what kind of art would come from this sweet soul today??
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I like Curtis Mayfield & The lmpressions
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I love song people get ready it a classic
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mylight2shin e
Curtis Mayfield was that GUY from the CHI! I don't have to say anymore. Damn, Chicago still doing it and always WILL.
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debrdaniels2
Classic
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rosaliejenki n s 5 4
The best artist ever the smooth an soulful lyrics that brought BLACKS together RIP CM always in our hearts
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wereofthewis e
Real music hits the core of your soul hence rightly labelled soul musis
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Good music unlike today's garbage I'm still jamming all these hits
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The real deal.
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divax17
Listening to this bring back great memories
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Thank you
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Yes
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The sound he made........ . . . c o o l . . . . y e p Fred is dead...great song
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Dumb asses for them killing Freddie like they did. I bet, yes bet, that Freddie, if by chance he had Pandora, he would have a Curtis Mayfield station on his list and the world is so stopped in its knowledge and understandin g of not but themselves, but all the world and the wisdom of what is wise itself. Yes Freddie would have know his death means nothing and he was worthless and the world knows all it needs to know even though it knows so little.
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o m g love me some Curtis Mayfield and the impressions DUSTIES like these will never go out of style youuuuu know what I am saying these are classics.
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artiedianefr a n k l i n
Love it.
Still listening artiediane
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Groovey. 14y 1m
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Can't get over you
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Just alittle girl, but felt things in.life With this group....
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Voice out of sight Joyce mdn. Miss
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when I pass from gods Earth i want people get Ready played
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curtis mybrother love you forever bobby j indiana
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I believe this song was composed by a prophet for all and for all times.gospel
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lisafrankie2 0 0 0
one of our all time favorite groups!
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777middleton
gentle genuis simply superb!
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Life was hard, But ther where much love
In places couldn't imagein...Am e n
Beautiful memorys... Candy stores, amen
Wishing those days were here....
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I still know all the words to his songs
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ivysuew
-he was the sounds black men remember in there heart from vienam--than k you curiis
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Smooooooth
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selaho37
He is truly a lifetime favorite.
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One of my favorite artist.
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Great Old School
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Curtis Mayfield was such a part of my High School and College life. He was so way ahead of his time. He never did get the credit that he deserved. After all these years, when I hear a Curtis Mayfield song, it takes me to another level. When you really take the time to listen to some of his lyrics, you would get a glimpse of his spirit. He truly was a genius. He also did the Soundtrack for the movie Claudine and Sparkle. He wrote the song Something He Can Feel that was sung by Aretha Fra
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