Curtis Mayfield was prolific, both when it came to songs he wrote and recorded for himself and to those he wrote and produced for other artists with their own reputations, big and small.
The “Move On Up” singer penned a number of tracks for groups like his own outfit, The Impressions, and others like The Five Stairsteps. But Mayfield also wrote for some of the biggest names in music history, from Aretha Franklin to Gladys Knight & the Pips.
Mayfield, who was born on June 3, 1942, and died at 57 years old on December 26, 1999, made a major impact on popular music, with his lyric writing and his falsetto vocal delivery. Songs like the psychedelic “Pusherman” continue to make an impact today.
Here, we will dive into the songs Mayfield wrote for those other artists. But this list, in a way, only shows the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the artist’s prolific pen.
1. Gladys Knight & the Pips
“Mr. Welfare Man,” “To Be Invisible,” “On And On,” “The Makings Of You,” “Claudine Theme,” “Hold On,” “Make Yours A Happy Home”
The 1974 album, Claudine, is a Gladys Knight & the Pips record, written and produced by Mayfield. It’s the soundtrack for the film of the same name, released the same year. That movie starred James Earl Jones and Diahann Carroll. Other songs on the album besides the theme include “On and On,” which hit No. 2 on the Billboard R&B chart. Two years later, “Make Yours a Happy Home,” hit No. 13 on the R&B chart.
2. Aretha Franklin
“Sparkle, ” “Something He Can Feel,” “Hooked on Your Love,” “Look Into Your Heart,” “I Get High,” “Jump,” “Loving You Baby,” “Rock With Me”
In 1976, Mayfield wrote and produced the soundtrack for the movie Sparkle, starring Irene Cara. Those songs were then performed and recorded by the legendary vocalist Aretha Franklin.
In fact, the record returned Franklin to Gold-selling status after two records that didn’t sell as well. The album’s lead single was the track “Something He Can Feel,” which hit No. 1 on the R&B charts. It was also Franklin’s only Top 40 pop hit during the latter half of the 1970s.
Later, “Something He Can Feel” and “Hooked on Your Love” were covered by the ’90s group En Vogue on the ensemble’s multi-platinum record, Funky Divas.
3. Jan Bradley
“We Girls,” “Behind The Curtains,” “Mama Didn’t Lie”
Mississippi-born soul singer Jan Bradley auditioned for Mayfield after graduating high school. She began to record his songs, including “We Girls” and, later, “Mama Didn’t Lie” in 1962 and “Behind Curtains” in 1963. The success, though, led to a frayed relationship between Chess Records and Mayfield and, as a result, Bradley was no longer allowed to work with him. She began to write and record her own songs, including, “I’m Over You.”
4. Major Lance
“Hey Little Girl,” “Must Be Love Coming Down,” “Sometimes I Wonder,” “That’s What Mama Say,” “The Monkey Time,” “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um,” “I’ve Got A Girl”
Born in 1939, Major Lance was an American R&B singer who lived to age 55. He boasted a number of hits in the United States in the 1960s, including the Mayfield-penned “The Monkey Time” and “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um.” He later became a big name in the U.K. (Elton John was once his piano player) and toured until his death. His daughter, Keisha Lance Bottoms, later served as the mayor of Atlanta.
Mayfield and Lance became friends. They’d attended the same school at different times and both liked playing basketball. Mayfield said Lance used to look “through my bag for songs I’d written but didn’t want to do with [Mayfield’s band] the Impressions. He was pretty good at picking them, too.”
Later, Mercury Records released his single, “I Got a Girl,” which was written and produced by Mayfield. While it didn’t do well, commercially, it began a relationship with Mayfield that continued with the hit “The Monkey Time,” peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard R&B chart. More hits followed, from “Hey Little Girl” to “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um.”
Photo by Gilles Petard/Redferns