Earlier this month Narrator Writing Prompts Editor Derek Loosvelt challenged us to find our own stories and adventures with Bobby McGee, and if you still seek that spark of soulful storytelling from a late great, I have four words for you: Lincoln Center. Curtis Mayfield.
For one night only, the Lincoln Center Festival and the Mayfield estate will come together to pay tribute to the soul singer and civil rights icon on what would have been his 70th birthday, with Here But I’m Gone.
A purely self-taught guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, Mayfield widely known in the 1960s, writing and recording socially conscious pieces, like “People Get Ready,” with The Impressions. But in the 1970s, he found solo success by writing and producing soundtracks for cultural staples like Super Fly (1972) and Claudine (1974).
In addition to movie soundtracks, Mayfield produced many of the songs that helped shape the US Civil Rights and Black Power Movements in the 1960s and 1970s. With tunes like “We’re a Winner” and “Keep on Pushing,” he was right up there with Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder in taking a look at racism, black pride, and economic equality through infectious pop, soul, funk, and R&B.
Later, Mayfield worked on his own label, Curtom Records, and produced for Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, and other artists. He also earned numerous awards, such as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his work with The Impressions.
Mayfield died in 1999 at age 57, nine years after he was left paralyzed from the neck down by an accident during his Wingate Field concert in East Flatbush, but this Friday, July 20 artists spanning genres and generations will gather to celebrate his life, his work, and his soul. According to the Lincoln Center Festival, a 14-piece house band under the musical directorship of guitarist Binky Griptite of the funk-infused Dap-Kings, will join The Impressions, with special performances by Bilal, Sinead O’Connor, Mavis Staples, and The Roots, among others.
This concert also celebrates the launch of the Curtis Mayfield Foundation, created by the Mayfield family to help disadvantaged youth realize their musical dreams. Tickets for the evening are still available (as low as $35!), and you can see the full line-up and program here. In the meantime, check out Mayfield’s performance of “Keep on Keeping On.”