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Profile: Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions


The Impressions

The Impressions

source: angelfire.com

Formed :

1958 (Chicago, IL)


Soul, R&B, Doo-wop, Funk, Gospel


Curtis Mayfield (b. June 3, 1942, Chicago, IL; d. December 26, 1999, Roswell, GA): vocals, guitar (falsetto)
Fred Cash (b. October 8, 1940, Chattanooga, TN): lead vocals (tenor)
Sam Gooden (b. September 2, 1939, Chattanooga, TN): vocals (baritone)

Contributions to music:

  • Created "Chicago soul" with their angelic harmonies and smooth grooves
  • Brought black activism into the R&B and soul mainstream
  • Introduced three-part gospel vocal harmony tradeoffs into soul
  • One of a handful of artists who helped merge R&B with gospel to create soul in the early Sixties
  • Produced vastly influential talents in Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield, the latter of whom came to define the "blaxploitation" sound of the early Seventies

Early years:

The story of the Impressions is really the story of two R&B singers, Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield, who met in a Chicago church choir in the late Fifties. Realizing even then that they wanted to sing secular music, they joined the local doo-wop group the Roosters in 1957. By the next year, they'd become Jerry Butler and the Impressions, and with their contacts at the local Vee-Jay label, scored a huge R&B hit with Mayfield's "For Your Precious Love." After just one followup, however, Butler left to go solo, although Curtis continued to write and even gig with him immediately afterwards.


Although "For Your Precious Love" and its ultra-reverent style were a harbinger of the soul movement to come, the most endearing form of the Impressions music wasn't to take shape until 1961 and the hit "Gypsy Woman." Utilizing three-part gospel harmony and backed by an easygoing, lightweight, uplifting groove, the new Impressions (now a trio) scored massive hits throughout the Sixties. Mayfield soon began to incorporate coded messages of encouragement to the black race during the civil-rights movement, culminating in outright solidarity with late-Sixties hits like "We're A Winner" and "This Is Our Country."

Later years:

After the turn of the decade, Mayfield left for a solo career, taking his style and welding it to funk for a series of hits typified by his 1972 soundtrack to the movie Superfly. His former group struggled on for a half decade, scoring the occasional hit in modern styles, but eventually fell off the charts. Tragically, Mayfield was hit by a lighting tower while performing in 1990, leaving him almost completely paralyzed for the rest of his life. He died from diabetic complications in 1999; the original trio, now with the addition of singer Reggie Torian, still performs the classic hits today.

Other facts:

  • Other members included: Jerry Butler, vocals (1957-1959); Arthur Brooks, vocals (1957-1962); Richard Brooks, vocals (1957-1962); Leroy Hutson, vocals (1970-1973); Ralph Johnson, vocals (1973-1976); Reggie Torian, vocals (1973-present); Nate Evans, vocals (1976-present)
  • Mayfield tuned his guitar to the black keys on the piano, resulting in a unique open F-sharp tuning
  • The group's hit version of the gospel standard "Amen" was recorded after seeing it used in the Sidney Poiter movie Lilies Of The Field (1963)
  • Mayfield was known as "The Gentle Genius" and has also been likened to an American version of Bob Marley


  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1991)
  • Vocal Group Hall of Fame (2003)

Recorded work:

#1 hits:
  • "It's All Right" (1963)
  • "We're A Winner" (1968)
  • "Choice Of Colors" (1969)
  • "Finally Got Myself Together (I'm A Changed Man)" (1974)
Top 10 hits:
  • "It's All Right" (1963)
  • "Keep On Pushing" (1964)
  • "Amen" (1965)
  • "For Your Precious Love" (1958)
  • "Gypsy Woman" (1961)
  • "Keep On Pushing" (1964)
  • "People Get Ready" (1965)
  • "Woman's Got Soul" (1965)
  • "I Loved And I Lost" (1968)
  • "Say You Love Me" (1968)
  • "Fool For You" (1968)
  • "This Is My Country" (1968)
  • "(Baby) Turn On To Me" (1970)
  • "Check Out Your Mind" (1970)
  • "Same Thing It Took" (1975)
  • "Sooner Or Later" (1975)
#1 albums:
  • People Get Ready (1965)
Top 10 albums:
  • Keep On Pushing (1964)
  • Keep On Pushing (1965)
  • One By One (1965)
  • The Impressions Greatest Hits (1965)
  • Ridin' High (1966)
  • We're A Winner (1968)
  • This Is My Country (1969)
Other notable recordings: "Come Back My Love," "I'm So Proud," "Talking About My Baby," "You Must Believe Me," "Wherever You Leadeth Me," "Soulful Love," "I'm Loving Nothing," "Gone Away," "The Young Mod's Forgotten Story," "Meeting Over Yonder," "Can't Satisfy," "I've Been Trying," "Times Have Changed," "Preacher Man," "Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey)," "Seven Years," "Ain't Got Time," "Loving Power"
Wrote or co-wrote: Mayfield only: "He Will Break Your Heart," Jerry Butler; "The Monkey Time," "Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um," Major Lance
Covered by: Todd Rundgren, Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck, Bob Marley, Vanilla Fudge, Brian Hyland, Fishbone, The Doors, The Zombies, The Persuasions, Ted Hawkins, Bob Dylan, Eva Cassidy, The Walker Brothers, Aretha Franklin, Prince
Appears in the movies: Mayfield only: "Superfly" (1972), "Save The Children" (1973), "Short Eyes" (1977), "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (1978)
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