CHICAGO (WGN) — Todd Mayfield is the second eldest son of musician Curtis Mayfield.
He recently spoke about his book “The Traveling Soul” and the recent film option about his famous father’s story.
“The Traveling Soul” chronicles the prolific songwriter’s career from cradle to grave including how he taught himself to play the guitar at 10 years old, yet couldn’t read or write music.
He also wrote the lyrics to his first song at age 15.
Curtis Mayfield grew up in Chicago. It’s where he started singing at the Traveling Soul Spiritualist Church on the South Side. That’s where Todd Mayfield got the title for his book.
“It’s very personal,” Todd Mayfield said. “When I told family members I was going to write a book there was a lot of apprehension, like, ‘What are you going to say?’ That kind of thing. I tried to do no harm, but at the same time I had to be real.”
Most remember Curtis Mayfield from his trademark falsetto voice.
“It’s a tenor with falsetto elements , because his speaking voice wasn’t high. He didn’t have a high pitched speaking voice,” Todd Mayfield said. “That was the way he thought he could distinguish himself.”
It was a voice some say could move millions with its tone and message to the people during a time of unrest in the 1960s with riots, a raging war and the civil rights movement. His music was oftentimes controversial with many radio stations refusing to play his records
“His music resonates today,” Todd Mayfield said. “I think he would probably say the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Much of Curtis Mayfield’s life is reflected in the more than 800 songs he wrote over his career. From the righteous, socially conscious songs of the impressions in the 50s and 60s to his later music like the multi million dollar selling album “Superfly” in 1970 and much, much more.
He would sing Doo Wop on the streets of his Cabrini Green neighborhood with his buddy and future impressions group member Jerry Butler.
Later the City of Chicago named a street in his honor in that neighborhood.
“When they moved to the Cabrini Green to the row houses right there on Hudson Street that was a God send for them,” Todd Mayfield said. “That was the first time for them that they had indoor plumbing and their own place.”
The Impressions got their first recording contract in Chicago, with the song “For Your Precious Love” at Vee-Jay records.
Some may call Mayfield a musical genius, a phenom. He owned his own record label Curtom, which Todd Mayfield ran for him for years in the 90s.
“He was one of those trailblazers. He was different and found success very early,” Todd Mayfield said. “He found himself very early, he would say. Most people don’t know what they want to when you’re 10-12 years old.”
Curtis Mayfield suffered a debilitating accident in 1990 when a lighting equipment fell down on him during an outdoor concert in New York. It paralyzed him from the neck down. Yet he still recorded music.
“He has to be the only paraplegic in the world to have a studio album released on a major label,” Todd Mayfield said.
Nine years after his accident, Curits Mayfield died at just 57-years-old.