Curtis Lee Mayfield (June 3, 1942 – December 26, 1999) was an African-American soul, R&B, and funk singer, songwriter, and record producer. He is best known for his anthemic music with The Impressions during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and for composing the soundtrack to the blaxploitation film Super Fly, Mayfield is highly regarded as a pioneer of funk and of politically conscious African-American music. He was also a multi-instrumentalist who played the guitar, bass, piano, saxophone, and drums. Curtis Mayfield is a winner of both the Grammy Legend Award (in 1994) and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (in 1995), and was a double inductee into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, inducted as a member of The Impressions into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, and again in 1999 as a solo artist. He is also a two-time Grammy Hall of Fame inductee.
In 1970, Mayfield left The Impressions and began a solo career, founding the independent record label Curtom Records. Curtom went on to release most of Mayfield's landmark 1970s records, as well as records by the Impressions, Leroy Hutson, The Staple Singers, Mavis Staples, and Baby Huey and the Babysitters, a group which at the time included Chaka Khan. Many of these records were also produced by Mayfield.
The commercial and critical peak of his solo career came with his music album Super Fly, the soundtrack to the blaxploitation film of the same name, and one of the most influential albums in African-American history. Unlike the soundtracks to other blaxploitation films (most notably Isaac Hayes' score for Shaft), which glorified the ghetto excesses of the characters, Mayfield's lyrics consisted of hard-hitting commentary on the state of affairs in black, urban ghettos at the time, as well as direct criticisms of several characters in the film. Bob Donat wrote in Rolling Stone Magazine in 1972 that while the film's message "was diluted by schizoid cross-purposes" because it "glamorizes machismo-cocaine consciousness... the anti-drug message on [Mayfield's soundtrack] is far stronger and more definite than in the film." Along with Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and Stevie Wonder's Innervisions, this album ushered in a new socially conscious, funky style of popular soul music. He was dubbed 'The Gentle Genius' to reflect his outstanding and innovative musical output with the constant presence of his soft yet insistent vocals. The single releases "Freddie's Dead" and "Super Fly" both sold over one million copies each, and were awarded gold discs by the R.I.A.A.
Super Fly brought success that resulted in Mayfield being tapped for additional soundtracks, some of which he wrote and produced while having others perform the vocals. Gladys Knight & the Pips recorded Mayfield's soundtrack for Claudine in 1974, while Aretha Franklin recorded the soundtrack for Sparkle in 1976. Mayfield worked with Mavis Staples on the 1977 soundtrack for the film A Piece of the Action. He was in danger of overreaching himself being writer, producer, performer, arranger, and businessman but seemed to cope and still produce a remarkable output.
One of Mayfield's most successful funk-disco meldings was the 1977 hit "Do Do Wap is Strong in Here" from his soundtrack to the Robert M. Young film of Miguel Piñero's play Short Eyes. In his 2003 biography of Curtis Mayfield, titled "People Never Give Up", author Peter Burns noted that Curtis has 140 songs in the Curtom vaults. Burns indicated that the songs maybe already completed or in the stages of completion, so that they could then be released commercially. These recordings include "The Great Escape", "In The News", "Turn up the Radio", "Whats The Situation?" and one recording labelled "Curtis at Montreux Jazz Festival 87". Two other albums, featuring Curtis Mayfield present in the Curtom vaults and as yet unissued are, a 1982/83 live recording titled "25th Silver Anniversary" (which features performances by Curtis, The Impressions and Jerry Butler) and a live performance, recorded in September 1966 by The Impressions titled 'Live at the Club Chicago'.
In later years, Mayfield's music would be included in the movies I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, Hollywood Shuffle, Friday (though not on the soundtrack), and Short Eyes (1977) where he had a cameo role as a prisoner.
Mayfield was active throughout the 1970s and 1980s, though he had a somewhat lower public profile in the 1980s. On August 13, 1990, Mayfield was paralyzed from the neck down after stage lighting equipment fell on him at an outdoor concert at Wingate Field in Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York. He was unable to play guitar, but he wrote, sang, and directed the recording of his last album, New World Order. Mayfield's vocals were painstakingly recorded, usually line-by-line while lying on his back.
Mayfield received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995. In February, 1998, he had to have his right leg amputated owing to diabetes. Mayfield was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on March 15, 1999. Health reasons prevented him from attending the ceremony, which included fellow inductees Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Dusty Springfield, George Martin, and 1970s Curtom signee and labelmate The Staple Singers.
His last appearance on record was with the group Bran Van 3000 on the song "Astounded" for their album Discosis, recorded just before his death and released in 2001.
Curtis Mayfield died on December 26, 1999 at the North Fulton Regional Hospital in Roswell, Georgia his health having steadily declined following his paralysis.
Awards and legacy
Mayfield has left a remarkable legacy for his introduction of social consciousness into R&B and for pioneering the funk style. Many of his recordings with the Impressions became anthems of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, and his most famous album, Super Fly, is regarded as an all-time great that influenced many and truly invented a new style of modern black music.
Mayfield's solo Super Fly is ranked #69 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
The Impressions' album/CD The Anthology 1961–1977 is ranked at #179 on Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of all time.
As a member of The Impressions, he was posthumously inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2003.
Along with his group The Impressions, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.
In 1999, he was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist making him one of the few artists to become double inductees.
Posthumously, in 2000, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He was a winner of the prestigious Grammy Legend Award in 1994.
He received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995.
He is a 2-time Grammy Hall of Fame inductee: for the song People Get Ready with The Impressions, and for the award-winning album Super Fly as a solo artist.
The Impressions' 1965 hit song, "People Get Ready", composed by Mayfield, has been chosen as one of the Top 10 Best Songs Of All Time by a panel of 20 top industry songwriters and producers, including Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Hal David, and others, as reported to Britain's Mojo music magazine.
The Impressions hits, People Get Ready and For Your Precious Love are both ranked on Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, as #24 and #327 respectively. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Mayfield #98 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
"Impressions of Curtis Mayfield" - a jazz instrumental album of Mayfield songs is set for release in late April 2012 and features unique performances recorded for this tribute by Terri Lyne Carrington, Russ Ferrante, Master Henry Gibson, Bob Hurst, Wallace Roney, Phil Upchurch and Ernie Watts aka the Jazz Soul Seven. The album was produced by Brian Brinkerhoff..
Curtis Mayfield performing for Dutch television in 1972
|Birth name||Curtis Lee Mayfield|
|Born||June 3, 1942|
Chicago, Illinois, United States
|Died||December 26, 1999 (aged 57)|
Roswell, Georgia, United States
|Genres||Soul, Funk, R&B, Chicago Soul,Psychedelic Soul|
|Occupations||Singer-songwriter, record producer, multi-instrumentalist|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, bass, piano,saxophone, drums|
|Labels||Curtom, Warner Bros., Rhino|
|Associated acts||The Impressions, Jerry Butler|