Curtis Lee Mayfield (June 3, 1942 – December 26, 1999) was an American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and record producer, and one of the most influential musicians behind soul and politically conscious African-American music. He first achieved success and recognition with The Impressions during the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and 1960s, and later worked as a solo artist.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Mayfield started his musical career in a gospel choir. Moving to the North Side, he met Jerry Butler in 1956 at the age of 14, and joined the vocal group The Impressions. As a songwriter, Mayfield became noted as one of the first musicians to bring more prevalent themes of social awareness into soul music. In 1965, he wrote “People Get Ready” for the Impressions, which displayed his more politically charged songwriting. Ranked at no. 24 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, the song received numerous other awards, and was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, as well as being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.
After leaving the Impressions in 1970 in the pursuit of a solo career, Mayfield released several albums, including the soundtrack for the blaxploitationfilm Super Fly in 1972. The soundtrack was noted for its socially conscious themes, mostly addressing problems surrounding inner city minorities such as crime, poverty and drug abuse. The album was ranked at no. 72 on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Mayfield was paralyzed from the neck down after lighting equipment fell on him during a live performance at Wingate Field in Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York, on August 13, 1990. Despite this, he continued his career as a recording artist, releasing his final album New World Order in 1996. Mayfield won a Grammy Legend Award in 1994 and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995, and was a double inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as a member of the Impressions in 1991, and again in 1999 as a solo artist. He was also a two-time Grammy Hall of Fame inductee. He died from complications of type 2 diabetes in 1999 at the age of 57.
Curtis Mayfield was born on June 3, 1942 in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Marion Washington and Kenneth Mayfield, one of five children. Mayfield’s father left the family when Curtis was five; his mother (and maternal grandmother) moved the family into several Chicago public housing projects before settling in Cabrini–Green during his teen years. Mayfield attended Wells Community Academy High School before dropping out his sophomore year. His mother taught him piano and, along with his grandmother, encouraged him to enjoy gospel music. At the age of seven he sang publicly at his aunt’s church with the Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers.