Songs of Black Lives Matter: Curtis Mayfield, "Power To The People"

Curtis Mayfield
Photo Credit
Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

In the wake of nationwide heartache following the news of George Floyd's death and the watershed election right around the corner, there is a growing urgency to support the Black Lives Matter cause. Generations of soul artists have contributed to the movement through anthemic songs of protest and statement albums that have begun and furthered the conversations addressing racism, violence and disillusionment.

In this ongoing series, we highlight the songs of the Black Lives Matter movement that launched and empowered people's pleas for a brighter future. Check back in weekly to listen and learn about the songs that have unified people throughout history to stand up for racial equality.

Curtis Mayfield, "Power To The People"

Curtis Mayfield never believed in giving up. He had approached death with valiance, successfully fighting all odds to record his final album New World Order after an on-stage accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. His approach to life proved no different. As the Civil Rights movement kicked into full gear, the legendary songwriter and artist unveiled song after song that would embolden and empower the many that joined along in the campaigns for equal rights, including the late Congressman and civil rights pioneer John Lewis as well as former United Nations Ambassador and Dr. King confidante Andrew Jackson Young.

As Young noted, “You have to think of Curtis Mayfield as a prophetic, visionary teacher of our people and of our time... who sang of the triumph and of the glory of us coming together as a people.” 

Dubbed the "Gentle Genius," Mayfield took on the role of both activist and historian through composing songs like "People Never Give Up" as well as  "Keep on Pushing," which became a staple in the soundtrack of the movers and the shakers of the Civil Rights Movement. 

His music had the power to simultaneously fight for the justice of his people and heal those caught in the tide of a contentious nation. 

ON THE SONG'S INSPIRATION: 

Similar to the tune of "Keep On Pushing," Mayfield pleads for his listeners to "Get on your feet/ And into the street" with liberty and justice on their minds. And so they did - as they boarded the "Freedom Rider" buses in the 60s to participate in sit-ins and peaceful protests, as young students marched in the streets, from their schools to the lunch counters...all the way to jail. He redefined Black pride in his unabashed proclamation of the Black struggle, the Black spirit and Black power, all to the groove of gospel and Chicago soul.

KEY LYRIC: "And bring back the power for the people/ That's all we ask in our country dear/ The sick and the hungry are unable/ Protect them and those who may live in fear"

Curated by the Mayfield family and Rhino, Curtis Mayfield: The Civil Rights Era: "People Never Give Up" includes the countless classics that fueled Mayfield's legacy as a Civil Rights-era champion. It’s a rich assemblage of culturally-important music that symbolizes an era of great social change in America that continues to this day.  

These songs have held communities together during a time when the nation stood divided and continue to do so as we enter the 2020 Election Day. Give this collection a thoughtful listen and heed the words of rapper Chuck D, who stated, "Mayfield songs told the African-American communities 'I got your back.'"

There are many ways people can support the movement against police violence and provide relief to the communities who have been impacted by police racism. Help the family of George Floyd HERE. Fight for Breonna Taylor HERE. Help the family of Ahmaud Arbery HERE.

Want to help protesters? Donate to one or more community bail funds HERE. Visit Movement For Black Lives for additional ways you can help the cause. Want to connect with leaders building grass roots campaigns? Click HERE. Are you an ally and want to learn more? Here are some anti-racism resources.

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