Remembering Curtis Mayfield on the 10th Anniversary of his Death
Unlike the deaths of musical icons like Elvis Presley, John Lennon or Michael Jackson, there was not much fanfare when soul brother Curtis Mayfield died—ten years ago on December 26, 1999 —at the North Fulton Regional Hospital in Roswell, Georgia. At the age of fifty-seven, after more than four decades of songwriting, production and performance, the man whose friends nicknamed “the gentle genius” was gone.
Outside of old soul radio stations, not many seemed to care that the Mayfield was gone. Where were the distraught fans clutching photos of the bespectacled brown-skinned man while candles blew in the winter wind? Where were the urban troubadours strumming songs like “People Get Ready” or “Choice of Colors” on acoustic guitar? Where were the VH1 specials featuring neo-soulsters Lenny Kravitz, D’Angelo, John Legend, Joss Stone, Jill Scott and Maxwell talking how Mayfield’s musical magic and angelic voice had inspired their own creative spirits?
While Mayfield’s death and subsequent cremation a few days later became nothing more than a footnote in the national consciousness, I sat on the couch in my mom’s Baltimore living room and shed a few tears for the fallen artist. As memories of Mayfield rushed to my head, I was transported back to the Harlem hood of my youth where I first bought the Super Fly soundtrack album at Mr. Freddy’s Soul Shack in 1972, when I was nine.
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