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Curtis Mayfield
Curtis Mayfield.png
Mayfield performing for Dutch television in 1972
Background information
Birth name Curtis Lee Mayfield
Born (1942-06-03)June 3, 1942
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died December 26, 1999(1999-12-26) (aged 57)
Roswell, Georgia, U.S.
  • Singer-songwriter
  • guitarist
  • record producer
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • piano
  • keyboards
Years active 1956–1999
Associated acts

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 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted group The Impressions during the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and 1960s, and later worked as a solo artist.

Mayfield started his musical career in a gospel choir. Moving to the North Side of Chicago, 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 was 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 blaxploitation film Super Fly in 1972. 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. He is 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 at the age of 57 on December 26, 1999.

Personal life

Mayfield was married twice. He had 10 children from different relationships. At the time of his death he was married to Altheida Mayfield. Together they had six children.


Mayfield died from complications of type 2 diabetes on December 26, 1999, at the North Fulton Regional Hospital in Roswell, Georgia. He was survived by his wife Altheida Mayfield, his mother Mariam Jackson; 10 children; two sisters, Carolyn Falls and Judy Mayfield; a brother, Kenneth Mayfield; and seven grandchildren.

Musical legacy


Mayfield was among the first of a new wave of mainstream black R&B performing artists and composers injecting social commentary into their work. This "message music" proved immensely popular during the 1960s and 1970s.

Mayfield taught himself how to play guitar, tuning it to the black keys of the piano, giving the guitar an open F-sharp tuning that he used throughout his career. He primarily sang in falsetto register, adding another flavor to his music. This was not unique in itself, but most singers sing primarily in the modal register. His guitar playing, singing, and socially aware song-writing influenced a range of artists, including Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Tracy Chapman, Sly Stone, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Sinead O'Connor.

In 2017, it was reported that Lionel Richie had secured the rights to produce a Curtis Mayfield biographical film. In a statement he said, "I'm so grateful to be working closely with [Mayfield's widow] Altheida Mayfield, [son] Cheaa Mayfield and the Curtis Mayfield Estate and couldn't be happier to be moving forward on this amazing project about a one-of-a-kind music genius." Altheida Mayfield added, "It's time to celebrate and re-evaluate Curtis' legacy. For years, too many others have tried to claim what he alone did. He was a genius, always stood on his own."


  • The Impressions' 1965 hit song "People Get Ready," composed by Mayfield, has been chosen as one of the Top 10 Best Songs Of All Time by a panel of 20 top industry songwriters and producers, including Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Hal David, and others, as reported to Britain's Mojo music magazine.
  • In 2019, Super Fly was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Rolling Stone rankings

  • The Impressions hits, "People Get Ready" and "For Your Precious Love" are both ranked on Rolling Stone′s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, as No. 24 and No. 327 respectively.
  • Mayfield is ranked No. 34 on Rolling Stone′s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
  • Mayfield is ranked No. 40 on Rolling Stone′s list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.
  • Mayfield's album Super Fly is ranked No. 69 on Rolling Stone′s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time."
  • Mayfield is ranked No. 78 on Rolling Stone′s list of the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time.
  • In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Mayfield No. 98 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
  • The Impressions' album/CD The Anthology 1961–1977 is ranked at No. 179 on Rolling Stone magazine's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Awards and nominations

In 1972, the French Academy of Jazz awarded Mayfied's debut solo album Curtis the Prix Otis Redding for best R&B record.

Hall of Fame

  • 1991: Along with his group the Impressions, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • 1999: Mayfield was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist making him one of the few artists to become double inductees.
  • 1999: Mayfield was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame just prior to his death.
  • 2003: As a member of the Impressions, he was posthumously inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.

Grammy Awards

Mayfield was nominated for eight Grammy Awards during his career. He is a winner of the prestigious Grammy Legend Award and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Year Nominated work Award Result
1964 "Keep On Pushing" Best R&B Performance Nominated
1972 "Freddie's Dead" Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male Nominated
1972 "Freddie's Dead" Best R&B Song Nominated
1972 "Junkie Chase" Best R&B Instrumental Performance Nominated
1972 Superfly Best Score Written for Motion Picture or Television Special Nominated
1994 Curtis Mayfield Legend Award Won
1995 Curtis Mayfield Lifetime Achievement Award Won
1996 New World Order Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male Nominated
1997 "New World Order" Best R&B Song Nominated
1997 "Back To Living Again" Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male Nominated

Grammy Hall of Fame

Year Nominated work Award Result
1998 "People Get Ready" (with The Impressions) Hall of Fame (Single) Inducted
1998 Super Fly Hall of Fame (Album) Inducted



  • Super Fly (1972) as himself
  • Save the Children (1973) as himself
  • Short Eyes (1977) as Pappy
  • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978) as Guest
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