Curtis Mayfield, one of soul music's chief architects and two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, died Sunday at age fifty-seven in a Roswell, Ga., hospital. Although the cause of death has not been made public, Mayfield had been in poor health; he was paralyzed from the neck down in 1990 when a lighting rig fell on him during a New York show, complications of diabetes resulted in the amputation of one of his legs in 1998, and, in March, he had to miss his induction into the Hall as a solo artist due to illness (he was also inducted in 1991 as a member of the Impressions).
In the Sixties, Mayfield was the songwriting/guitar-playing force behind the Impressions, who, through songs like "People Get Ready" and "Keep on Pushing," blended the emotive vocal stylings of gospel with rhythm & blues to pioneer soul music. The songs' inspiring social messages made them staples of the civil rights movement.
After splitting the Impressions, Mayfield intensified his urban commentary -- and turned up the volume -- enjoying a string of funkified hits, most notably "Freddie's Dead" and "Superfly," both from the 1972 blaxploitation film Superfly
. His music has been the subject of two tribute albums, with artists ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Whitney Houston reinterpreting his songs.
Mayfield was as legendary for his work on the other side of the glass, producing fellow soul giants (and Hall inductees) Aretha Franklin, the Staple Singers and Gladys Knight & the Pips.
"They called him the 'little genius,' and that's exactly what he was," said the Impressions' Fred Cash from his home in Chattanooga, Tenn. "And he was such a kind person, too."
Cash and the rest of the Impressions just finished taping their part for a new, "We Are the World"-style version of "People Get Ready" being put together by hip-hop producers Jermaine Dupri and Rico Wade for Mayfield's home city of Atlanta's Year 2000 celebration.
"Curtis left some wonderful music for the children of the next millennium," Cash said.
Written by BILL CRANDALL for RollingStone.com News