29 Years Ago: Curtis Mayfield Rallies for Final Album, "New World Order"

Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images
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Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images

In 1990, Curtis Mayfield was struck by a falling lighting rig during an outdoor concert in New York, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. New World Order was the gospel-tinged soul pioneer's triumphant return, his first and final studio release since the incident. 

In order to record his final album, he positioned his broken body by laying on his back so that he could intake the necessary oxygen to sing, one painstaking line at a time. 

"Now it's always the right time," he sang beautifully, pausing to prepare for his next line, "With somethin' positive in your mind. There's always someone to pull you down, you just get that work and hold your ground." 

With a team of contemporary R&B producers beside him to do the physical work he was no longer capable of, Mayfield miraculously delivered the album with stunning vocal delivery. The album's lyrical urgency and poetic prowess underscored the album's true musical power - the undeniable persevering power of Mayfield himself.

"How many 54-year-old quadriplegics are putting albums out? You just have to deal with what you got, try to sustain yourself as best as you can, and look to the things that you can do," he described

Throughout his career, Mayfield focused on the bigger picture - and fixed his gaze on inspiring progressive social change. His releases in the '60's with the Impressions and solo work in the '70s all tackled issues of race, class and justice while simultaneously delivering landmark funk jams and moving, lush ballads. 

In this album, the King of Conscious Soul commandeered equal attentions to his skills as a lyricist and a high tenor in this album. Released September 1996, the album was hailed triumphantly, and received three Grammy nominations. 

Mayfield was laid to rest at the age of 57 on December 26, 1999 after battling nearly a decade of health complications, but he gifted the world a lasting legacy of heroic optimism and positivity. 

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