An extensive overview of the words and music of Chicago’s Gentle Genius Of Soul.
Curtis Mayfield (3 June 1942–26 December 1999) rightfully belongs at the top of any list of the truly great singer-songwriters that black America has ever shared with the global population. Curtis’ compositions raised the bar for soul songwriting from 1960 onwards and maintained an astonishingly high level for two decades. What makes that all the more remarkable is the fact that Curtis wrote virtually all of the songs that put him in this category on his own, without a writing partner – something others in his peer group (Hayes-Porter, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Smokey Robinson and a host of collaborators, etc) seldom did. All while maintaining a career as a performer with the Impressions for around 13 years, and then as a solo act for a further two decades.
The “Gentle Genius” from Chicago’s Cabrini-Green projects wrote for the romantic, and also for the revolutionary. His songs spoke to his people, and for his people. Many of his biggest successes as writer carry important social messages, others simply say “you are beautiful and I love you”. All of them are finely crafted masterpieces that confirm Curtis’ standing as one of the great creators of 20th century popular song.
Even after he was no longer able to perform after the terrible events of August 1990, when his active performing career was ended after a lighting rig fell on him at an outdoor show in New York, Curtis continued to write songs after he regained the power of speech. His final solo album, 1996’s “New World Order”, consisted of 11 new songs and two remakes, all of which Curtis had a hand in writing. It was correctly hailed by many as his best album since the mid-70s. If you didn’t know, you would never have guessed that the man who made it was paralysed from the neck down and had to record his vocals a line at a time in order to breathe properly.
In the 20-year period covered by this compilation, Curtis wrote well over 100 songs that between them have accrued at least 1000 covers, and definitely more when foreign translations of several of them are added. Many of those will continue to be revisited and recorded again, for decades to come. What you hear here is but a small sampling of his vast catalogue.