Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: I remember that Curtis Mayfield died on or near Christmas many years ago, somewhere in Georgia, but to this day I never heard even a peep as to the cause of his death. I don't think it was foul play.

Did they not know or were they just not saying?

Please look into this. Maybe you can come up with an answer.
—Ryan Gooding, Macon, Ga.

DEAR RYAN: When Curtis Mayfield's life ended December 26, 1999, he was a patient at the North Fulton Regional Hospital in Roswell, Georgia.

The gradual shutdown of his body that culminated in his death began with a tragic accident nearly a decade earlier.

For that we backtrack to Monday, August 13, 1990. Curtis performed in New York that day on an outdoor stage at Wingate Field, a popular Brooklyn venue well-known for their free summer concerts.

Suddenly, portions of the overhead lighting equipment came crashing down on Curtis, leaving him permanently paralyzed from the neck down.

After the accident, his mind and vocal skills — speaking and singing — functioned normally. The rest of his body was deadened.

Death came as the result of progressively declining health overall, especially with his vital organs — all directly attributed to his paralysis.

Considering his dreadful condition, Curtis amazed everyone by composing and then recording 13 songs for what would be his final album.

Necessity being the mother of invention, the engineers fashioned a remote setup that allowed them to record Mayfield's vocals from his bed, then return to the studio and piece everything together.

This worked so well that the resulting collection, “New World Order,” is flat-out indistinguishable from anything made before the accident.

It also put Curtis back on the charts, for the first time since 1985. “New World Order,” released in October 1996, made the Top 30 R&B LPs, and remained on the charts for nearly one year.

The album also yielded three hit singles: “New World Order”; “No One Knows About a Good Thing (You Don't Have to Cry)”; and “Back to Living Again.” The latter carries a message Curtis must have felt deeply:

“It's best to get back on track
Ain't no need in lookin' back
Try, then try again
Sometimes you lose
Sometimes you win”

Most music aficionados know about the 70 or so hits Curtis Mayfield wrote, either for the Impressions when he sang lead for them, or for himself when he went solo.

What is not such common knowledge is that about 65 other Mayfield songs became chart hits for other artists.

Here are a few prime time examples, and those who made them popular:

“He Will Break Your Heart” (Jerry Butler; Righteous Brothers; Tony Orlando & Dawn)
“Find Another Girl”; “I'm a Telling You” (Jerry Butler)
“Need to Belong” (Jerry Butler; Laura Lee)
“Just Be True”; “Rainbow”; “Man's Temptation”; “Nothing Can Stop Me”; “What Now” (Gene Chandler)
“Mama Didn't Lie” (Jan Bradley)
“The Monkey Time”; “Hey Little Girl”; “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um”; “It Ain't No Use”; “Girls”; “Rhythm”; Sometimes I Wonder”; “Come See”; “Ain't It a Shame” (Major Lance)
“It's Too Late” (Walter Jackson)
“Gotta Get Away”; “Nevertheless”; “I Can't Work No Longer” (Billy Butler)
“Say It Isn't So”; “Girls Are Out to Get You”; “I'm in Love” (Fascinations)
“Danger! She's a Stranger”; “Don't Change Your Love”; “Baby Make Me Feel So Good”; “We Must Be in Love” (Five Stairsteps)
“Long, Long Winter” (Linda Clifford)
“Curious Mind (Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um)” (Johnny Rivers)
“On and On” (Gladys Knight and the Pips)
“Let's Do It Again”; “New Orleans” (Staples Singers)
“Jump”; “Hooked on Your Love”; “Look Into Your Heart” (Aretha Franklin)
“Giving Him Something He Can Feel” (En Vogue)

IZ ZAT SO? Apart from all of the above are three Curtis Mayfield compositions, each a huge hit for the Impressions, that sold as well or better when revived by other artists:

“Gypsy Woman” (Brian Hyland)
“I'm So Proud” (Main Ingredient; Deniece Williams)
“People Get Ready” (Jeff Beck & Rod Stewart)

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