“You have to think of Curtis Mayfield as a prophetic, visionary prophet of our people and of our time. The fact that all of Curtis Mayfield’s records crossed over [both black and white] was saying that he was integrating the society. Martin Luther King was trying to do it legally and morally but there’s a sense that the music has been more successful than the courts and the church. It sorts of sneaks up on people. You like the music, you’re patting your foot and only realize what the words are saying.” -Ambassador Andrew Young, Civil Rights Leader
“When [the song] ‘People Get Ready’ was made the country was going through some tough things. We realized that we were taking a chance. ‘We’re a Winner’, ‘This is My Country’, ‘Choice of Colors’ – Curtis was speaking his mind. “I listened to the lyrics, I listened to the melody and … I kind of felt this could be a big, big song. Because of the message that was involved …and because the way Curtis was delivering it. You could tell he was bringing something that he really felt.” – Johnny Pate, Impressions producer
The above songs as well as ‘Meeting Over Yonder’ became the soundtrack for the Civil Rights movement. Curtis Mayfield wrote the music that moved a generation and quite simply changed the world. It was his passion and paradoxically his personal passion to own himself created music that resonated with his generation’s purpose and did as much as Martin Luther King to move black America (and by extension all of us) forward. What is most personal is most universal. If you’re looking to connect with purpose and inspire others look first to your unique passion. Here’s what Curtis Mayfield’s wife remembers:
“I know Keep On Pushing and We’re a Winner had an impact. I know from people I was around. I know that environment and that we were suffering. And sometimes those words were just right on time. I mean right on time to help you keep getting up, to help you keep going instead of giving up.” – Altheida Mayfield (wife of Curtis)
Footnote: Amazingly enough, after the 60s, Curtis Mayfield did it again when he wrote the soundtrack for the 70s black power, addressing urban blight, drugs, the disillusionment after the assassinations and Vietnam War. Songs like Superfly and Pusher Man encapsulate that era. He wasn’t trying to sell anything – he was just writing from his heart. His personal passion connected with purpose for not one but two decades worth of people.
(Quotes are from the wonderful DVD documentary The Music and Message of Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions)