Brought up in the Chicago projects, Mayfield developed his musical talents from an early age. By the time he turned sixteen, he found his way out of the slums and into The Impressions, an R&B group that Mayfield quickly led to enormous success. The group had numerous songs chart on the Billboard Top 20 throughout the sixties, including the song “Keep On Pushing,” an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. King. In 1970, Mayfield left The Impressions to embark on his solo career. One of the notable high water marks of his work as a solo artist is the soundtrack to 1972’s Super Fly, an album considered by many to have fundamentally reinvented contemporary “African American music” of the era, fusing elements of R&B, soul, funk, film music and blues along with his socially progressive lyricism. Mayfield was a true pioneer, using his artistic ability to take on the stark inequalities and discrimination affecting the lives of all African Americans, paving the way for social progress. He was one of the first R&B artists to emphasize awareness of social issues in his music, an example that has since been imitated and refined by so many others over the past four decades.
In addition to his widespread success as a performing artist, Curtis Mayfield also established himself as a remarkably successful producer and composer, working with a diverse array of artists such as The Righteous Brothers, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples, and Bob Marley.
Mayfield was honored countless times throughout his career. He won numerous Grammy awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995. Mayfield is also one of only a handful of artists to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, once as a member of The Impressions and once as a solo artist. He will forever be remembered for his contributions to the soundtrack of the progressive turmoil of the 1960s, as well as for his fearlessness and creative spark that revitalized R&B music. While Mayfield’s idealistic vision of America may not have been realized, there is still much to be learned from the music that serves as his legacy. He will remain as a contributor to revolutionary thought in America for years and years to come.