Curtis Mayfield

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Curtis Mayfield
Curtis Mayfield performing on the movie, "Superfly".
Curtis Mayfield performing on the movie, "Superfly".
Background information
Birth name Curtis Lee Mayfield
Born June 3, 1942(1942-06-03)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Died December 26, 1999 (aged 57)
Roswell, Georgia, United States
Genre(s) Soul, R&B, Funk, Chicago Soul, Psychedelic Soul
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter, record producer, multi-instrumentalist
Instrument(s) Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Piano, Saxophone, Drums
Years active 1958–1999
Label(s) Curtom, Warner Bros., Rhino
Associated acts The Impressions, Jerry Butler
Notable instrument(s)
Fender Stratocaster

Curtis Lee Mayfield (June 3, 1942 – December 26, 1999) was an American soul, R&B, and funk singer, songwriter, and record producer best known for his anthemic music with The Impressions and composing the soundtrack to the blaxploitation film Super Fly. From these works and others, he was highly regarded as a pioneer of funk and of politically conscious African-American music.[1][2] He was also a multi-instrumentalist who played the guitar, bass, piano, saxophone, and drums.


[edit] Biography

[edit] Early years and The Impressions

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Mayfield attended Wells High School. He dropped out of high school early to become lead singer and songwriter for The Impressions, then went on to a successful solo career. Perhaps most notably, Mayfield was among the first of a new wave of mainstream African-American R&B performing artists and composers injecting social commentary into their work.[1] This "message music" became extremely popular during the period of political ferment and social upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s.

Mayfield had several distinctions to his style of playing and singing, adding to the uniqueness of his music. When he taught himself how to play guitar, he tuned the guitar to the black keys of the piano, giving him an open F-sharp tuning — F#, A#, C#, F#, A#, F# — that he used throughout his career. [3] Also, he sang most of his lines in falsetto (not unique in itself, but other singers in his time mostly sang tenor), adding another flavor to his music.

Mayfield's career began in 1956 when he joined The Roosters with Arthur and Richard Brooks and Jerry Butler. Two years later The Roosters, now including also Sam Gooden, became The Impressions.[4] The band had one big hit with "For Your Precious Love". After Butler left the group and was replaced with Fred Cash, Mayfield became lead singer, frequently composing for the band, starting with "Gypsy Woman". Their hit "Amen," an updated version of an old gospel tune, was included in the soundtrack of the 1963 MGM film Lilies of the Field, which starred Sidney Poitier. The Impressions reached the height of their popularity in the mid to late 1960s, with a string of Mayfield compositions that included "Keep On Pushing," "People Get Ready," "It's All Right", "Woman's Got Soul", "Choice of Colors," "Fool For You," "This is My Country" and "Check Out Your Mind." Mayfield had written much of the soundtrack of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s, but by the end of the decade he was a pioneering voice in the black pride movement, in the company of James Brown and Sly Stone. Mayfield's "We're a Winner", a Number 1 soul hit which also reached the Billboard pop Top 20, became an anthem of the black power and black pride movements when it was released in late 1967,[5] much as his earlier "Keep on Pushing" (whose title is quoted in the lyrics of "We're a Winner") had been an anthem for Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.[6]

Independent from his work with The Impressions, Mayfield became a songwriting powerhouse in Chicago, writing and producing scores of hits for other artists. He also owned the Mayfield and Windy C labels, distributed by Cameo-Parkway, and was partners in the Curtom label (first independent, then distributed by Buddah then Warner Bros and finally RSO.)

[edit] Solo career

In 1970, Mayfield left The Impressions and began a solo career, founding the independent record label Curtom Records. Curtom would go 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.

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 featured in the movies I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, Hollywood Shuffle, and Friday (though not on the soundtrack).

[edit] Later years

Mayfield was active throughout the 1970s and 1980s, though he had a somewhat lower public profile. 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. This tragedy set him back, but Mayfield forged ahead. 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 due 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.

[edit] Personal Life

Curtis Mayfield died in the early morning of December 26, 1999 at the North Fulton Regional Hospital in Roswell, Georgia. He was survived by his wife, Altheida, 10 children, his mother, two sisters and a brother; and seven grandchildren. The singer was cremated, and his ashes were given to his family.

[edit] Legacy

Mayfield is remembered for his introduction of social consciousness into R&B and for pioneering the funk style in the 1970s. 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 (#69 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums). His distinctive, hard guitar riffs influenced the development of funk, and was highly influential on a young Jimi Hendrix who cited Mayfield as his biggest influence.[citation needed] He is also regarded as influencing other landmark albums, like Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters. One magazine notes, "eulogies...have treated a sort of secular saint--rather like an American Bob Marley".[citation needed] That noted, he is not as well-known as contemporaries like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, or James Brown, perhaps because of their more consistent streams of hits or more mainstream style of music. Nevertheless, he is still highly regarded for his numerous innovations in the 1960s and 1970s and for his unique style of music, perhaps best described as "black psychedelia...remarkable for the scope of its social awareness".[citation needed]

His last work came to be the song "Astounded", with the group Bran Van 3000, recorded just before his death and released in 2001.

As a member of The Impressions, Mayfield was posthumously inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2003.

In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Mayfield #99 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time[7].

[edit] Tributes

In 2009, Rapper Battman D.E. GannaBanna Sampled 6 Of Mayfield's Songs, "Hard Times" For His Double Album,"Taxi Driver", "Little Child" For His Song "Gutta Child" For "A Song 2 Remember", "Give Me Your Love(Love Song)" For His Song "Sex In Da Mornin'",For "Late Nite Hustla,Morning Lover" "Ghetto Child" "Time 2 D.I.E.", For His Album, "My Lyricz And Songs,Volume 1"

In June 2007 Sinead O'Connor released two versions (one acoustic and one with full band) of Mayfield's "We People Who Are Darker Than Blue" on her album Theology.

The Dust Brothers sampled the intro to Mayfield's "Superfly" for the Beastie Boys song "Eggman" on the album "Paul's Boutique".

Hip hop producer Just Blaze has used a slowed down sample of Mayfield's "Move On Up" for the 2006 Kanye West/Lupe Fiasco hit single "Touch The Sky". Eminem sampled Mayfield's song "Pusherman" for his debut LP on the song "I'm Shady". Late rapper 2Pac sampled him consistently as well[citation needed]. "Pusherman" was also covered by Doyle Bramhall II.

Jay-Z sampled "Short Eyes" for his 2007 song "American Gangster" from the eponymous album.

Mary J. Blige samples "give me your love" for her 1994 song "I'm The Only Woman" from the My Life album.

In 1988, Fishbone acknowledged Mayfield's influence on their own vision, "a melting pot of ska, punk, and funk [with] hard rock (...) added to the mix", by choosing to cover Mayfield's early 70's hit "Freddie's Dead" to open their well-regarded Truth and Soul LP, which "also featured (...) several musically varied tracks that deal with the same topic: racism, past and present (...)"

In 1996 Australian vocal band Human Nature recorded 2 a cappella versions of "People Get Ready", one, without the middle verse, on their 1996 Telling Everybody album, and the other, with the middle verse, on their 2001 Here & Now: The Best of Human Nature Album.

Paul Weller routinely cited Mayfield's works as influence and inspiration. With his first band The Jam, Weller recorded Mayfield's "Move On Up" as a B-side of a single.

Monica sampled "The Makings of You" on her 2006 single "A Dozen Roses (You Remind Me)" from her The Makings of Me album. The title of the album refers to that song.

The Techniques, The Uniques, Bob Marley and The Wailers, and many other early vocal groups in Jamaica were deeply influenced by the songwriting, vocal harmonies, and black consciousness that appear as hallmarks on Impressions recordings from the early to mid 1960s. Many of the Wailers' early ska recordings are Impressions covers. One of Marley's most well known songs, "One Love", is in fact a take on "People Get Ready".

Ice-T prominently sampled "Pusherman" on the song I'm Your Pusher; Clipse also sampled "Pusherman" on "Cot Damn" from their 2002 Lord Willin' album.

Souls of Mischief sampled "We're a Winner" on "Limitations" from their debut album 93 'til Infinity.

The music video of "Astounded" by Bran Van 3000, has a still image of Mayfield in one line of the first verse as a tribute.

In 1993, three years after the accident which caused Mayfield's paralysis, Shanachie records released the album People Get Ready: A Tribute to Curtis Mayfield, featuring Jerry Butler, Don Covay, Steve Cropper, lani Groves, Michael Hill, Huey Lewis and the News, Delbert McClinton, Vernon Reid, David Sanborn, Jonathan Sanborn, Angela Strehli, Bunny Wailer, Kim Wilson. According to the album cover, "Fifty percent of all royalties will benefit Curtis Mayfield."

Donell Jones' "When I Was Down" sampled "Freddie's Dead" on Where I Wanna Be (1999).

My Morning Jacket opened their New Year's Eve 2008 show at Madison Square Garden with Mayfield's "Move on Up" off the album Curtis.

Cam'ron sampled the hook from "I'm your Pusherman" for the song "D Rugs" from his debut album Confessions of Fire

[edit] Discography

[edit] Studio Albums

[edit] Live albums

[edit] Compilations

[edit] Songwriting

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b Curtis Mayfield, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. "…significant for the forthright way in which he addressed issues of black identity and self-awareness. …left his imprint on the Seventies by couching social commentary and keenly observed black-culture archetypes in funky, danceable rhythms. …sounded urgent pleas for peace and brotherhood over extended, cinematic soul-funk tracks that laid out a fresh musical agenda for the new decade." Accessed on line November 28, 2006.
  2. ^ Soul icon Curtis Mayfield dies, BBC News, December 27, 1999. "Credited with introducing social comment to soul music". Accessed on line November 28, 2006.
  3. ^ Carpenter, Bill. Uncloudy Days: The Gospel Music Encyclopedia page 273 CMP Media, 2005 ISBb 0879308419 Accessed via Google Books November 20, 2008
  4. ^ Soul icon Curtis Mayfield dies, BBC News, 27 December, 1999. Accessed on line 28 November 2006.
  5. ^ Curtis Mayfield biography, Internet Movie Database (IMDB). "…1968 hit 'We're A Winner,' became a civil rights anthem" Accessed on line 28 November 2006.
  6. ^ Richard Phillips, Curtis Mayfield dies: A modest man of great musical talent and sensitivity, World Socialist Web Site (International Committee of the Fourth International), January 24, 2000. Accessed on line November 28, 2006.
  7. ^ "The Immortals: The First Fifty". Rolling Stone Issue 946. Rolling Stone. 

[edit] External links

NAME Mayfield, Curtis
ALTERNATIVE NAMES Mayfield, Curtis Lee
SHORT DESCRIPTION American singer-songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist
DATE OF BIRTH June 3, 1942
PLACE OF BIRTH Chicago, Illinois, United States
DATE OF DEATH December 26, 1999
PLACE OF DEATH Roswell, Georgia, Georgia, United States
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