Curtis Mayfield and “we people who’re darker than blue”

Josiah Howard, who wrote for the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress when Mayfield’s Super Fly was recorded, wrote:

Curtis lee Mayfield was born in Chicago, Illinois, on June 3, 1942. He grew up in the tough Cabrini knocks– –Green housing projects– –the fire Backdrop for the Blaxploitation favorite Cooley up and the ONfrican– –American television series “Good times.” One in five children, his mother encouraged his innate musicality. At 14 Mayfield joined a vocal group that would do this later the impressions. He sang, played instruments– –Inclincluding the piano, guitar and bass, and wrote catchy Songs. The impressions– –Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Candidates ((how is Curtis Mayfield as Solo artist)– –went through several casting changes over the years. The one Mayfields was a constant masterful Songs. “Gypsy Woman” (1962), “It’s All Right” (1963), “Keep Then Pushing ”(1964),and people Receive Done ”(1965)– –the latttwo of them were hugs by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and used over the decades lots Freedom rides, elevated Mayfield from soul group member to Poet / artist / activist.

The that was cumulative effect his unique talents made him shine greater than the group that bmade him famous. Nineteen– –seventy was the year Curtis Mayfield said goodbye to the Impressions. In these years “Curtis” and the following years “Root,”published on Curtom– –his very own record label– –Appsealed too Mayfields already established black audience but took his music and his message a Step further. The New Song titles said it all: “The other Side of town. “” We, the people, who ONIt’s darker than blue. “” Next up, “” Miss Black America, “” Get Down. “” Nice brother from me ”and“ Keep up the good work, ” made that clear Mayfield was very conscious of America running racee and class share– –and he wasn’t afraid to discuss it.

Mayfield was profiled by the VH1 Legends series in 1996.

Ethnomusicologist Stephanie Shonekan, A professor of music and associate dean at the University of Missouri wrote “Epilogue: ‘We People Darker Than Blue’: Black Studies and the Mizzou Movement” for The Journal of Negro Education:

One of my favorite songs is Curtis Mayfield’s We People Who Are Darker Than Blue (1970). It represents the deep and unique physical beauty and painful struggle of blacks around the world. The song itself is a journey from Africa to America, combining the hypnotic djembe drum beats of a West African past with the funky improvised jazzy horns and keyboards from African American R&B. Mayfield includes spoken and sung lyrics, stories and didactic lessons that include the pace and dynamics vary. All of this leads to an urgent call for blacks to stand firm in the fight against systemic oppression and racism. Although the #BlackLivesMatter generation of the 21st century has dedicated themselves to hip-hop to find a suitable soundtrack for their modern movement, this song by Curtis Mayfield could serve as the theme song for the continuum of movement.

In this clip from the 1973 documentary Save the Children, Curtis plays both We People Who Are Darker Than Blue and Give Me Your Love.

As a student at Howard University in 1968 and a participant in the student takeover of the Administration Building, I can attest to this factoid.

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In March ’68, thousands of @HowardU students occupied the school’s administration building. They called for more courses on African American history and culture, disciplinary complaints against student protesters, and more. To boost morale, they played # CurtisMayfield’s “Keep on Pushing” pic.twitter.com/xnVLaSBB7f

– Fender (@Fender) February 23, 2021

Here is “keep pushing”.

Traveling Soul: The Life of Curtis Mayfield is his 2016 biography co-written by his son Todd Mayfield and Travis Atria.

Curtis Mayfield was one of the seminal singers and most talented guitarists of his time, and his music played an important role in the civil rights movement: “People Get Ready” was the black anthem of the time. In Traveling Soul, Todd Mayfield tells the story of his famous private father down to the smallest detail. Curtis was born in terrible poverty and grew up in the Chicago slums. He became a musical child prodigy who not only sang like a dream but grew into a brilliant songwriter. He opened his own label and production company in the 1960s, and worked with many other top artists, including the Staple Singers. Curtis’ life was known to have been shortened by an accident that left him paralyzed, but in his declining health he received the long-awaited recognition of the music industry.

The story of the life-changing accident in which Mayfield was paralyzed is detailed in the book. Mayfield gave a concert for Senator Marty Markowitz on August 13, 1990 at Wingate Field in Brooklyn, New York. The weather forecast was poor that day, but the show went on. Rolling Stone published this excerpt from the biography detailing what happened:

It happened in seconds, starting with the wind that had knocked the first two rows from their seats and destroyed the speakers. The gust also toppled the cymbals on the drum riser. Drummer Lee Goodness sat back and caught her with his left arm, keeping the beat with his right. As Markowitz turned with the microphone, another gust lifted the front light framework off the ground and dropped it, throwing the rear framework off the stage as it fell. Markowitz collapsed in fear and lay on his stomach. The front truss fell from the sky like a freight train. As it sank, stage lights fell from it like raindrops.

One of those falling raindrop lights cracked in the neck of Curtis and dropped him to the ground. Then the falling truss pulverized the tom drums with a tremendous bang. If Lee hadn’t leaned back to catch the pelvis, it would have severed his arms, maybe worse. His kick drum stopped the framework before it could crush my father like a bug.

Dad went black and came to find that neither his hands nor his arms were where he thought they were. He was splattered on the stage, helpless as a child. Then it rained. Big drops. Rivers poured from heaven; Thunder exploded like splinters. My goodness rushed to his band leader. “Are you all right?” he shouted in the rain. “I think so, but I can’t move,” moaned my father, soaked in the thunderstorm, powerless to take cover. He kept his eyes open, afraid that if he closed them he would die. Someone covered it with plastic wrap and everyone waited without breathing for an ambulance to arrive.

Doctors at Kings County Hospital would deliver the life-changing news to Mayfield: Because he was paralyzed from the neck down, he would never run or play the guitar again.

In 1995 Mayfield was interviewed for a documentary retrospective of his life entitled “Darker Than Blue” on the BBC Omnibus series.

In 1996, three years before his death in 1999, Mayfield produced his last album, New World Order.

The album included a remake of “We People Who Are Darker Than Blue”.

Although Brother Mayfield has passed away, his work, life and impact lives on. Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theater Company staged a production of “It’s OK to Have a Good Time: The Story of Curtis Mayfield” in 2013 and I hope they will revive the show in the future after COVID-19.

Join me in comments for more on Mayfield, his music and his impact.

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