Curtis Mayfield’s career spanned chart topping soul music with the Impressions in the 60s to his leading role in adding urban commentary to R&B in the 70’s and on through his continuation of a career after a devastating accident.
Born in Chicago, Mayfield got his first guitar at ten years old and fell in love with the instrument, often sleeping with it. Jerry Butler was a high school friend and they had a band that would become the Impressions. When Butler left the group for his solo career, Mayfield continued and toured with the Impressions as Butler’s opening act and soon the band had their own hits.
Curtis Mayfield was a key contributor to the Chicago soul scene, forming a record label and writing songs for other artists. By 1970 Mayfield left the group to go solo with his first album Curtis. It has been favorably compared to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On for its social commentary. In 1972 Mayfield his his most successful release with the soundtrack to the blaxplotation film Superfly, selling over 12 million copies.
The success of Superfly drew more work for Curtis Mayfield and on some of the soundtracks he wrote and produced with other artists performing. Artists included Gladys Knight and the Pips, Aretha Franklin, The Staples Singers and Mavis Staples. Later in the 70s Mayfields material was more political, including a strong criticism of the Vietnam War and incorporated more elements of funk in the music.
In 1990 Curtis Mayfield was paralyzed from the neck down when stage lighting fell on him. He continued to write and record despite the accident. No longer able to play guitar, Mayfield recorded his lyrics from his bed. He released his last album in 1996.
Shortly before his passing in 1999 Curtis Mayfield was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.