Influential singer/songwriter/musician/producer Curtis Mayfield died December 26, 1999 at age 57. He passed away at the North Fulton Regional Hospital in Roswell, Georgia, from complications arising from diabetes.
As leader of the gospel/soul group The Impressions in the 1950s and ’60s, Mayfield made his first mark on the music scene. The group earned 14 Top 40 hits, including “People Get Ready,” “It’s All Right” and “Woman’s Got Soul.”
In 1970, he began a nearly 30-year solo career, releasing his first album, Curtis, on the Curtom label he had founded two years before. He and began to convey a powerful social commentary and observations through his music — messages of black pride and regarding other social issues.
Said Mayfield of the music of this era, “Each of these songs represents important experiences in my life and how I felt about different issues I was facing and trying to understand at the time.” The funk classic Superfly soundtrack is considered by many to be Mayfield’s “masterpiece.”
As a producer, Mayfield worked with Gladys Knight and Aretha Franklin, though his multiple career achievements helped him win him two Grammy Awards: 1994’s Living Legend award and a Lifetime Achievement award in 1995. Mayfield was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 as a solo musician, although had been already been a part of the Hall since 1991, when The Impressions were inducted.
In Brooklyn in 1990, a lighting tower fell on Mayfield before a concert, leaving him a quadriplegic. Still, six years later, he released New World Order — his 25th solo album.
A legend in his own time, Mayfield’s work inspired a tribute album: 1994’s A Tribute to Curtis Mayfield, featuring covers of his songs by artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Elton John and Stevie Wonder. Quite clearly, many musicians have considered Mayfield an influence — even Tears For Fears singer Curt Smith called his post-TFF band Mayfield — issuing press releases with the pun, “Curt Is Mayfield.”
At the time of his death, Mayfield’s manager Marv Heiman told the Associated Press, “He wanted people to think about themselves and the world around them, making this a better place for everyone to live.”
Curtis Mayfield was survived by his wife, ten children and seven grandchildren.