Curtis Mayfield, born 70 years ago today, wrote music that inspired a generation and a movement. Though he may be best remembered for the very funky “Super Fly” (and other songs from the movie that bore its name), Mayfield was helping drive the Civil Rights Movement long before he brought the funk.
The year was 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. still had four years to live, and the struggle for civil rights was igniting the nation. King’s March on Washington, a year earlier, had been a success, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was approaching passage. And then a song was released, one that perfectly summed up the fight so far and imparted the strength to keep going: “Keep on Pushing” by Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions.
King adopted the song as the unofficial anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, and Mayfield and the Impressions became some of the first R&B artists to bring social consciousness to their music. They continued to inspire King and all those working toward civil rights with their next album and its title track, the gospel-flavored “People Get Ready.”
As the Civil Rights Movement began to evolve and Black Power/Black Pride took the forefront, Mayfield’s music evolved alongside it. In 1967, “We’re a Winner” became a strong symbol of that pride, and a catalyst to, as Mayfield often said, keep on pushing.