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Curtis Mayfield
Curtis Mayfield
December 26, 1999
Age 57
 
  
 
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NY TIMES
        
 Curtis Mayfield, Conscience-Driven Soul Singer, Dies at 57

          By NEIL STRAUSS 

           Curtis Mayfield, one of the most important soul singers and 
          songwriters of the 1960's and 70's, who brought themes of civil 
          rights to the pop charts, died yesterday at the North Fulton Regional 
          Hospital in Roswell, Ga.. He was 57.  

          The cause was not available on Sunday. In 1990 Mr. Mayfield was paralyzed from the 
          neck down after a lighting scaffold fell on him on a concert stage in Brooklyn. Though 
          he continued to compose and play music,  his health deteriorated. Last year his right 
          leg was amputated because of diabetes related to the injury.  

          In an interview with The New York Times in 1996, Mr. Mayfield said, "Being a 
          quadriplegic, it's a life-or-death situation almost every minute of the day."  

          Though never a superstar to the extent of many of his peers, Mr. Mayfield captured 
          the spirit of his time in songs that have endured as classics beyond their context. 
          These compositions range from his inspirational anthem "People Get Ready" to his
          lowdown funk classic,  Superfly," from the blaxploitation movie of the same name.  

          As a member of the group the Impressions in the 50's and 60's and as a 
          solo act in the 70's, Mr. Mayfield imbued his songs with messages of 
          love, optimism, unity, faith and self-awareness. He stood out from his 
          contemporaries by bravely, intelligently and passionately delving into 
          racial and political issues in powerful and prophetic songs like "We 
          People Who Are Darker Than Blue" and "Mighty Mighty (Spade and 
          Whitey)."  

          Beyond lyrics, Mr. Mayfield was a funk and rap pioneer, laying down 
          grooves full of bongos, bass, horns and wah-wah guitar that took on a 
          new life when acts in the 80's and 90's, like Ice-T, Mary J. Blige and 
          Digable Planets began sampling his music.  

          Mr. Mayfield was born in Chicago on June 3, 1942. Before his teenage 
          years he was already deep into soul and gospel, leading his own group, 
          the Alphatones. At 14 his family moved to the North Side of Chicago, 
          where he met Jerry Butler in the gospel group Northern Jubilee Singers. 
          Mr. Butler urged Mr. Mayfield to join his soul group, the Roosters. The 
          group renamed itself the Impressions, and quickly had its first pop hit, 
          "For Your Precious Love," which reached No. 11 on the pop charts.  

          Ego clashes led Mr. Butler to leave the group for a solo career, though 
          Mr. Mayfield continued to write songs for him, including Mr. Butler's 
          Top 10 pop hit "He Will Break Your Heart").  

          After a few years the Impressions re-established themselves with Mr. 
          Mayfield as their leader, fusing gospel, soul and doo-wop into powerful 
          hits like "Gypsy Woman" and "It's All Right." With the Impressions's 
          1964 hit "Keep on Pushing," Mr. Mayfield became one of the first 
          rhythm-and-blues singers to take the civil rights movement to the pop 
          charts. Themes of black pride and equality between the sexes, mixed 
          with more gospel-based messages of devotion, began to populate his 
          songs with the Impressions until he left the group to begin a solo career.  

          In 1971 Mr. Mayfield began releasing solo albums, each one a musical 
          or lyrical revelation. He also acted as a producer, working with Aretha 
          Franklin, the Staple Singers and Gladys Knight and the Pips.  

          "Superfly," his classic groove and falsetto-filled workout, cemented his 
          legacy by topping the pop-album charts for four weeks in 1972. On 
          albums like "There's No Place Like America Today," from 1975, his 
          songs seemed to penetrate the minds of the urban hopeless and 
          despondent, telling them to remain strong in times of poverty, 
          unemployment and black-on-black violence.  

          This message of strength under adversity was one Mr. 
          Mayfield followed all his life.  His career began to falter as 
          disco hedonism became popular, though he never lost 
          faith and continued to record inspirational albums. Despite 
          his paralyzing accident, Mr. Mayfield said that his spirit 
          was soaring and he believed in mankind even more after 
          seeing people of all races and creeds rally to his support.  

          In the 90's, there were three boxed sets released of his 
          music, two tribute albums with other acts recording his songs, and, in 
          1996, an album from Mr. Mayfield with spirited songs like "Back to 
          Living Again." Mr. Mayfield was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of 
          Fame twice, in 1991 as a member of the Impressions and this year as a 
          solo artist.  

          When asked by The New York Times in 1996 how he felt about this 
          flood of recognition since his accident, he replied with characteristic 
          optimism, "I'm a great believer in the saying, 'It might not come when you 
          want it to, but it's right on time.' "  

          Mr. Mayfield is survived by his wife, Altheida, of Atlanta; his mother; 10 
          children; two sisters; a brother; and seven grandchildren. 
 

 
 
 
 R&B Legend Curtis Mayfield Dies in Georgia Hospital

 ROSWELL, Ga. (Reuters) - Rhythm and blues legend Curtis Mayfield, whose music helped 
 define the Chicago sound in the 1960s and whose funky style influenced artists from pop to 
 hip hop, died on Sunday, a hospital spokeswoman said. He was 57. 

 A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Mayfield's hits included the soundtrack from 
 ``Superfly'' and the seminal singles ``People Get Ready'' and ``Keep On Pushing.'' 

 ``He'll be missed, as will the other blues artists who have passed on recently, but fortunately 
 the blues itself is not dying with him,'' said Frank Pellegrino, owner of Chicago blues club 
 Kingston Mines, who saw Mayfield perform several times. 

 North Fulton Regional Hospital officials declined comment on the cause of Mayfield's death, 
 and family members were not immediately available for comment. 

 Mayfield suffered a serious accident in August 1990. While performing at an outdoor 
 concert in New York a lighting rig collapsed on him, damaging his spine and leaving him a 
 quadriplegic. 

 He had toured in the United States, Europe and Japan, up until his accident, but even after 
 leaving the stage his presence continued to be felt in the work of other artists. 

 In 1994, Whitney Houston, Elton John, The Isley Brothers and Aretha Franklin recorded his 
 composition in a special tribute called, ``All Men Are Brothers: A Tribute to Curtis 
 Mayfield.'' 

 Herbie Hancock, Deniece Williams and En Vogue have recorded covers of his works, as 
 have many hip hop and rap artists. 

 Mayfield is one of the few people to have been inducted more than once into the Rock and 
 Roll Hall of Fame. He was first inducted with his gospel-soul group, the Impressions, in 
 1991. He was inducted again in 1999 for his solo career, which began in 1970 after he left 
 the Impressions. 

 Mayfield was too ill to attend the 1999 Hall of Fame ceremony, which also inducted Bruce 
 Springsteen and Paul McCartney. 

 Mayfield was born in Chicago on June 3, 1942, and began singing by the age of seven. He 
 taught himself to play the guitar and began writing and composing music, under the influence 
 of his mother, who loved poetry. 

 His talents led him into a career in music, which began in 1957, and lasted nearly 40 years. 

 As a singer, songwriter, composer and producer, Mayfield was a driving force in the music 
 scene through the 1960s and 1970s, in part through the group, The Impressions. 

 Among his hits during the period were ``Gypsy Woman,'' and ''He Will Break Your Heart.'' 

 Mayfield's efforts epitomized the Chicago sound that rivaled Detroit's Motown in the 1960s, 
 producing such classics as ``It's All Right, and ``People Get Ready.'' 

 His 1972 soundtrack to the film ``Superfly'' sold more than 4 million copies and received 
 four Grammy nominations. It also solidified Mayfield's position in the pantheon of 
 contemporary musical talent. 

 He lived in Atlanta with his wife and family. 

   

    
  Best Of '99: SonicNet--Curtis Mayfield
Friends, Family Recall Curtis Mayfield's Influence, Persistence

                      Two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee
                      brought social consciousness to '60s soul
                      music and helped pioneer funk in '70s. 

                      Staff Writers Teri vanHorn and Chris Nelson report: 

                      [Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking
                      back at 1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and
                      writers. This story originally ran on Monday, Dec. 27.]

                      Curtis Mayfield's friends on Monday (Dec. 27) remembered
                      him as an inspiration to other musicians, a lifelong learner and an early proponent of civil rights.

                      "Curtis got into it before most other performers did," his former bandmate and longtime friend Jerry
                      Butler said of the "People Get Ready" singer. "He seemed to me always out in front of the
                      movement. That's what genius is." 

                                     The two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, whose voice and guitar
                                     brought social consciousness to 1960s soul music and helped pioneer funk in
                                     the '70s, died Sunday morning in a Roswell, Ga., hospital at age 57. He had
                                     been admitted to the hospital Wednesday after slipping into a coma.

                                     Mayfield's wife, Altheida, and his children were at his bedside when he died,
                                     according to Karen Lee, his publicist at Warner Bros. Records. A cause of
                                     death was not specified, but Lee said Mayfield had been ill.

                                     Butler, who knew Mayfield since their childhoods and sang with him in the
                                     Impressions, remembered his humor, intelligence, civil rights activism and
                                     perseverance, which was tested by the 1990 onstage accident that left him
                                     paralyzed below the neck.

                                     "Right after his accident, he told me, 'Jerry, you know what really bugs me
                                     about this? I can't reach over and get my guitar. ... I have these thoughts and
                                     melodies running through my mind and I can't pick it up and do it,' " recalled
                                     the 60-year-old Butler, who is serving his 14th year as a Cook County
                                     Commissioner in Chicago.

                                     But Mayfield continued to record, releasing his last album of original work, New
                                     World Order, in 1996. Wade Murray, part of Organized Noize, the
                                     Grammy-nominated production team that worked on the album, recalled in the
                                     Atlanta Journal Constitution watching Mayfield record most of his vocals lying
                                     down.

                                     "It was amazing that that voice, that incredible, influential voice, was still there
                                     even when he was flat on his back," Murray is quoted as saying.

                                     Murray and his brother Ray are working with fellow producers Dallas Austin
                                     and Jermaine Dupri on a remake of Mayfield's 1965 single "People Get
                                     Ready," according to the newspaper.

                      Mayfield, who was inducted into the Rock Hall both as a member of the Impressions and as a solo
                      artist, was born in Chicago on June 3, 1942. He formed the Roosters in 1956 with fellow
                      church-choir member Butler, brothers Arthur and Richard Brooks and Sam Gooden; they later
                      renamed themselves the Impressions. Mayfield wrote, sang and played on most of the group's
                      many hits, including the atmospheric "Gypsy Woman," the uplifting, oft-covered "It's All Right" and
                      the gospel-inflected "People Get Ready," which was adopted as an anthem by the civil rights
                      movement.

                      Butler left the group in 1960, but he and Mayfield continued to collaborate, even regrouping in the
                      Impressions for a 1983 reunion tour. "I did more than work with Curtis, I grew up with him," said
                      Butler, who met Mayfield when the late singer was 8. "We developed a friendship over time that
                      came very close to being family." Butler's latest release of new material is Time and Faith (1992).

                      Butler said most fans might not know Mayfield was a "lover of knowledge" with an extensive home
                      library, as well as a prankster who loved practical jokes.

                      But more than anything, he said, "Curtis was his music. "That was his life."

                      In addition to scoring 13 top-10 singles in the '60s and '70s, Mayfield wrote hits for several fellow
                      Chicago soul singers, including Major Lance ("The Monkey Time") and Billy Butler and the
                      Enchanters ("I Can't Work No Longer"). He also penned the Staple Singers' "Let's Do It Again,"
                      which became the title track to the 1975 film that starred Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier.

                      "That was the only secular song we've ever done," Mavis Staples told the Chicago Sun-Times
                      Sunday. "We were excited. But when we went into the studio and Pops heard his part 'I like you
                      lady/ So fine with your pretty hair' he said, 'Man, I ain't singing that, Curtis,' and Curtis said,
                      'Pops, come on. It's a movie score. It's not changing your religion. Do it for me, please?' And Daddy
                      just got tickled. He couldn't say no to Curtis. He was that inspiring."

                      Mavis Staples performed "People Get Ready" with U2 frontman Bono at this year's Rock Hall of
                      Fame induction ceremony, while Pops Staples recorded the song for his 1994 album, Father
                      Father.

                      Butler said the lyrics to "People Get Ready" "People get ready, there's a train a-comin'/ You
                      don't need no ticket, just get on board" were about more than the civil rights movement. "That
                      train was love and peace and all of that," he said.

                      "He wanted people to think about themselves and the world around them, hoping it would make this
                      a better place for everyone to live," Marv Heiman, Mayfield's longtime manager, said in a statement.

                      Mayfield began his solo career in 1970, with the album Curtis, on which he moved away from the
                      softer sound of the Impressions and toward a bass-driven funk style.

                      His 1972 soundtrack to the movie "Superfly" decried inner-city woes while helping to define the funk
                      sound of heavy bass and wah-wah guitar, as reflected on such classics as "Freddie's Dead" and
                      "Pusherman." Mayfield continued to release solo albums throughout the '70s while scoring films
                      and writing and producing for such artists as Aretha Franklin. His R&B hits of that decade also
                      included "Future Shock," "Kung Fu" and "Between You Baby and Me," a duet with Linda Clifford.

                      Among the many artists who have cited Mayfield as an influence are Lauryn Hill, Eric Clapton,
                      Bruce Springsteen, Ice-T and Whitney Houston. Springsteen covered "Gypsy Woman" on the 1994
                      album A Tribute to Curtis Mayfield, which also featured Houston, Clapton, Rod Stewart and Stevie
                      Wonder. Mayfield recorded the single "Superfly 1990" with Ice-T in 1990, and, for this year's
                      soundtrack to The Mod Squad, recorded "Here But I'm Gone (Part II)" with Hill.

                      "I lost my husband, the father of our children, my best friend and my soulmate," Mayfield's wife,
                      Altheida, said in a statement. "Thank God his music and his legacy will live far beyond today."

                      (Staff Writer Brian Hiatt and Contributing Editor Frank Tortorici contributed to this report.)

 
 
 
       
 

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All-Music Guide
 
born in Chicago on June 3, 1942
died in Roswell, GA on December 26, 1999
 
 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 "Superfly" are merely the most 
 famous of his many hit records. 

 But Curtis Mayfield isn'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 Superfly, 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 Superfly 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 Superfly, 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. These 
 tributes are no substitute for the man himself, but they are an indication of the enormous regard in 
 which Mayfield is still held by his peers. -- Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide

 
 
  
 
 

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