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Curtis Mayfield was born on this date in 1942. He was an African American musician and songwriter.
From in Chicago, Illinois, Mayfield enjoyed a childhood filled with music. He was singing by age seven, strongly influenced by a local gospel group. This group, The Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers, included three of his cousins, Sam, Tommy, and Charles Hawkins, and future member of The Impressions, singer Jerry Butler. A self-taught guitarist, Mayfield joined a local group, The Alphatones. Inspired by his mother, he began developing his songwriting skills.
In 1957, Jerry Butler invited 16-year-old Mayfield to join The Roosters; he wrote and composed music for them. Six months later, the group met Eddie Thomas, who renamed them The Impressions and became the group's manager. The Impressions hit the charts a year later with “For Your Precious Love,” and Mayfield's professional career began. In addition to occasional gigs with The Impressions, he played guitar in Butler's touring band and gave Jerry his first R&B hit in 1960 with “He Will Break Your Heart.” After saving money from his work with Butler, Mayfield took The Impressions to New York.
The Impressions cut some demos, which resulted in a recording contract with ABC Records that produced a run of more than 18 charted singles that made the group one of the most popular R&B acts of the '60s. Songs like It's All Right and Woman's Got Soul were Mayfield lyric highlights. “We're A Winner” (released in January 1968) quickly became a declaration of pride for African Americans fighting for civil rights in a turmoil-filled decade. In addition to his work with The Impressions, Curtis wrote and produced songs for many record labels including OKeh, VeeJay, Windy-C, and Mayfield Records.
Two years later, in 1970, he launched Curtom Records, with distribution through newly formed Buddah Records. Popular artists on the Curtom label included Linda Clifford, The Jones Girls, and Donnie Hathaway. After further hits with The Impressions, “Including Fool for You,” “This Is My Country,” and the classic Choice of Colors; Mayfield began a solo career in early 1970. After taking to the road for selected performances, Curtis recorded a live album at New York’s Bitter End and followed it in the summer of '71 with a second solo studio album, “Roots.” While at Lincoln Center in New York City, Curtis was approached by Phillip Fenty, a screenwriter, and Sig Shore, a producer, with the script of “Superfly.”
Mayfield wrote the score and performed the soundtrack for the film, which proved to be one of the most successful Black action films and soundtracks in history. “Superfly” went on to sell well over a million copies, receive four Grammy nominations, and helped launch him into a superstar. Mayfield continued to record new albums, while expanding his activities to include production work with Gladys Knight & The Pips, Aretha Franklin, and The Staple Singers; and creative supervision for Curtom Records. In 1977, Mayfield stepped in front of the cameras for a role in the dramatic movie “Short Eyes,” also contributing to the soundtrack.
In 1979, a new distribution pact with RSO Records yielded some new chart hits for him. Teaming with Curtom artist Linda Clifford, he delivered the sensuous jam “Between You Baby and Me,” which became a Top 20 R&B, hit that August, and was followed eight months later with another duet charter, “Love's Sweet Sensation.” In 1982, he relocated to Atlanta; three years later, he decided to resurrect Curtom under the name CRC. Constant touring in Europe and Japan kept Mayfield busy along with dates as part of an Impressions reunion tour that featured members of the group, Mayfield, and Jerry Butler. In 1989, Curtis contributed to the soundtrack of the movie “I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka,” and the following year he worked on tunes for another movie,” The Return of Superfly.”
Tragedy struck him in August 1990. While performing at an outdoor concert in Brooklyn, high winds dislodged a lighting rig, which collapsed on him. The damage to his spine left him a quadriplegic. Curtis Mayfield died in 1999.
Heart & Soul
A Celebration of Black Music Style in America 1930-1975
By Merlis Davin Seay, Forward by Etta James
Copyright 2002, Billboard Books