Curtis Mayfield is like the spring. Let me specify: His music is like the spring. Much has been written and said about the impact of his artistry on the Civil Rights movement in the United States. Reams of paper have been devoted to his groundbreaking work on soundtrack albums in the 70s like Superfly, Sparkle or Short Eyes, all of it deserved. But for me, what makes Curtis special is the voice.
Let me be clear; by voice I’m not just referring to the physical apparatus, the vocal chords, the throat and the beautiful sound created. I’m also using voice the way one refers to a writer or painter or sculptor “finding their voice”, the state when an artist finds their niche, their raison d’etre and finally inhabits the particular space that allows them to comment upon or express ideas and feelings pertinent to the human condition. And Curtis’ “voice” is like the spring.
Let me provide an example, a more personal one. When I was 14 I had a serious crush on a girl named Marie. Marie was cuter than a button and possessed a devilish grin, the kind that promised much mischief and delivered even more. But for me, the most surprising thing wasn’t the way her brown locks framed her face like climbing vines on a trellis. Nor was it her infectious laugh. No, the biggest surprise was that she said she liked me too.
Now, anyone who has been through the hormonal tumult that is puberty knows what often comes next: daydreams, hand holding, first kisses. The unadulterated bliss of a hand on a thigh. The hours long telephone conversations. Contemplating huge words like love. And the sheer pride of walking down the street in the company of someone you might-just-sorta-kind-of-could-maybe-one-day love.
I didn’t possess the words to articulate my feelings back then. I probably still don’t. And at that time I didn’t fully understand the pride and the hope, the eternal optimism that my hardcore crush on Marie stirred in my soul. Or rather, I didn’t until I heard “I’m So Proud” by the Impressions. It’s not just the truthful simplicity of the lyrics (“Prettier than all the world, And I’m so proud, I’m so proud of you…I’m so proud of being loved by you) it’s the delivery of said lyrics, the sound of Curtis’ “voice”, and the harmony of his “voice” along side those of fellow impressions Fred Cash and Sam Gooden.
Everyone, especially the fellas, knows what it’s like to have a woman you adore so much you want to show her off, whether walking down the street together, or holding her whisper close on the dance floor. And this romantic dynamic, so well captured in this song, is highlighted by its usage in the movie A Bronx Tale.
This flick, one of my personal favourites and one I’ve watched countless times, is a coming of age story that partially deals with the burgeoning interracial romance between a young Italian American boy and an African-American girl in the 1960’s. Watching this movie and watching this clip all these years after first seeing the movie, after first hearing that song, after my ultimately unrequited crush on Marie, still stir within me a complex set of feelings and emotions that never cease to put a smile on my face and add a little pep to my step. If you’ve never heard “I’m So Proud” before, do yourself a favour and click on the player.
I’m So Proud – The Impressions
When an artist dies commentators often say “___________ may have passed, but their artistry lives on”. This is another in a long line of modern life’s well-worn clichés. But in the case of Curtis Mayfield it is truer than most. It is so true, so self-evident, it might not really need to be said. Yet, I’m still going to say it. Because his “voice” filled so many with a sense of pride, a sense of hope. Because Curtis Mayfield’s “voice” is like the spring. And hope springs eternal.