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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
full bio

Comments

Yes
The sound he made........ . . . c o o l . . . . y e p Fred is dead...great song
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.
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.
artiedianefr a n k l i n
Love it.
Still listening artiediane
Groovey. 14y 1m
Can't get over you
Just alittle girl, but felt things in.life With this group....
Voice out of sight Joyce mdn. Miss
when I pass from gods Earth i want people get Ready played
curtis mybrother love you forever bobby j indiana
I believe this song was composed by a prophet for all and for all times.gospel
lisafrankie2 0 0 0
one of our all time favorite groups!
777middleton
gentle genuis simply superb!
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....
I still know all the words to his songs
ivysuew
-he was the sounds black men remember in there heart from vienam--than k you curiis
Smooooooth
selaho37
He is truly a lifetime favorite.
One of my favorite artist.
Great Old School
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
myjaz...we need his inspiration more than ever,today. his message will always be relevant! swing low...
shamari077
I appreciate the lyrics that foreseen the struggles we live today EXCELLENT MUZIK
Great music
Real soul music. Back when you could tell one artist from another. Just a handful out there now and a finger is missing from that hand. Amen
Aah the 60's and 70's was a time of growing up, and seeing the world for what is was...the good times in music
swr4s21
music that bonded brothers together far from home in the far east .nothing like it ever before or ever since.EPIC aka BRO ROB
music that makes you think about the good days
lilstick62
music with with a real message
Roots.
feel good music
music with heavy messages for black folks
Made me see who we were as black men.
abhaynes8
A man of inspiration yesterday, today, tomorrow and days to come talking about Truth & Freedom
mbratton10
WOW! I was five years old when Superfly came out, thanks Dad for listening to great music! I remember that whole album word for word cause my Dad played the brakes off it! Gimme your love! :), Freddie's Dead..that's what i said..
our poet laureate!!!!
his music is still so relevant today, what a vissionary!! !
the songs still has the time of day then and now.
Don,t do me ugly. Respect yourself
I agree that he was a genius.
i miss him...tp,lov e
kingsley77
GENIUS!!!!
rbelle8524
Curtis Mayfield pure genius,
Curtis Mayfield set the mark of individual love with all races, not just black but for every color Red, White, Black what ever!!! I grew up as a minority in South Central L.A. with his music and I am 48 years old, and I hear his knowledge and wisdom though out all his music lyrics. Rest in peace CM!!! Much love Big Doug Sr.
I will always choose Black! Whaaaat!
Do you respect your brother's women friend....an d share black folks not of kin.......WO W
luther87
Reliving "You don't need a ticket just get on board!" Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions
Living for the Love of Cooking in my kitchen, Keeping the Isley Bro
around for ever! each and everyday!
john-voz
Monumental, paramount & pioneer are just a few words to describe his brilliance!! I would love to be in a make believe conversation with Curtis, Bill Withers & Gil Scott Heron.... imagine the possibilitie s .
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