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Curtis Mayfield
Curtis Mayfield

People get ready for the train a-comin'.
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board.
From "People Get Ready," by the Impressions

Freddie's dead. That's what I said.
From "Freddie's Dead," Super Fly soundtrack

Singer, songwriter, guitarist, bandleader, producer, and label owner Curtis Mayfield (1942-1999) was a primary exponent of sweetly melodic yet socially conscious soul/funk. He began his career with the Impressions, leading them through a series of upbeat love songs ("It's All Right") and soaring pleas for racial progress ("Keep on Pushing," "This Is My Country," "Choice of Colors"). Mayfield departed the Impressions in the 1970s, to begin a solo career that saw his social conscience deepen. His best known achievement as a solo artist was the soundtrack to Super Fly. "Freddie's Dead" and the title track were his biggest solo hits.

Mayfield also wrote music for the movies Short Eyes, Let’s Do It Again, and Sparkle. His popularity waned in the 1980s, and he was paralyzed from the neck down following an accident at an outdoor concert in 1990. Nevertheless, he recorded a final album, New World Order, in 1996. He died three years later from complications of diabetes.


Tropes associated with Curtis Mayfield include:

  • Blaxploitation: He was associated with this, thanks to Super Fly.
  • Determinator: Mayfield, post-accident. Now a quadriplegic, he recorded his vocals for the New World Order album line by line, while lying on his back. It was the only way he could get enough air into his lungs to sing.
  • Epic Rocking: “Move On Up” and “(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go.”
  • Homage: The cover for his 1975 album There's No Place Like America Today is a tribute of sorts to a 1937 Margaret Bourke-White photo of black flood victims.
  • Nice Hat: Mayfield wore lots of these in the 1970s.
  • N-Word Privileges:
    • With the Impressions: "Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey)"
    • Solo: “Pusherman” and “(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go.”
  • Protest Song: This goes without saying.
  • Signature Song: "People Get Ready" and "Freddie's Dead"
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music: The Super Fly soundtrack, full stop. The movie itself is about a coke dealer (to be fair, a coke dealer hoping to escape the life). Mayfield said that the movie seemed like "a cocaine commercial," when he first saw it, and wrote songs decrying the urban decay and drug abuse that spawned such characters as the film’s antihero.


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