Heart and Soul

A Tribute to Curtis Mayfield

Mayfield would never repeat the artistic and commercial success of Superfly. He dabbled some more in film scores, producing a few worthwhile tracks for the Staple Singers ("Let's Do It Again") and himself, most notably "Future Shock" and the unnerving "To Be Invisible." He moved to Atlanta in 1980 and, after signing with Boardwalk, landed a few singles on the R&B charts in the mid-'80s that weren't half as interesting as what rappers such as Ice-T would do with Mayfield's vintage work through the technological magic of sampling. (Check out Ice-T's 1988 hit "I'm Your Pusher," which borrows liberally from Mayfield's "Pusherman.")

After hitting the oldies circuit with a reformed Impressions and recording a 1987 duet with, of all groups, Britain's Blow Monkeys, a band of faux-soul Brit popsters, Mayfield scored the 1990 debacle The Return of Superfly. Later that year, while performing in Brooklyn, Mayfield was paralyzed from the neck down when a lighting rig fell on him.

Move on up: Curtis Mayfield takes his place among the great legends of music
Move on up: Curtis Mayfield takes his place among the great legends of music

Mayfield's spirit -- and just as remarkably, his supple voice -- remained intact. Like the protagonist in "Keep On Pushing," he never succumbed to cynicism. He was feted in 1994 with a pair of guest-laden collections -- A Tribute to Curtis Mayfield and People Get Ready: A Tribute to Curtis Mayfield -- and won the Grammy Legend Award that same year and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995. His last batch of studio recordings, issued in 1996 as New World Order, contained a terrific reworking of "We People Who Are Darker Than Blue" and "Back to Living Again," his best song in more than 20 years. Play them back to back, and it becomes obvious that, despite all the dull albums of the '70s, and the half-baked rush-jobs of the '80s, Mayfield never lost his hunger for justice, his demand for respect, or his belief that love, faith, and dignity could help to make right all the wrongs around him. It's not that simple, of course, but for more than four decades, Curtis Mayfield did more than his part.

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