Buy it on Amazon.

Who remembers 1972? In that year, Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack to “Superfly” was everywhere — this was the rare hit movie with a soundtrack that was an even bigger hit. But that was his least achievement. A crusading songwriter for black equality, black pride and black power, he wrote the civil rights songbook. You perhaps recall “People Get Ready” and Martin Luther King Jr’s favorite anthem, “Keep On Pushing.” Versatile? He delivered love songs that inspired. Mavis Staples got it just right: “His love songs made you fall in love, and his message songs made you want to go out and do something good for the world.”

He was soul music’s Prince of Optimism — and he sometimes got depressed.

When that happened, he went to the movies.


“Movies are dreams,” he said. “And dreams are what we live on.”

In his songs, he delivered dreams — especially the song I’ve been reaching for some recent mornings when I stumble upon a particularly shitty piece of news.

As you listen — and if you’re ever going to bookmark a video, this is a prime candidate — consider the lyrics:

Hush now child and don’t you cry
Your folks might understand you by and by
Just move on up towards your destination
Though you may find from time to time complications

Bite your lip and take a trip
Though there may be wet road ahead
And you cannot slip so what you wanna do
Just move on up for peace you’ll find
Into the steeple of beautiful people where there’s only one kind

Don’t like ads? Become a supporter and enjoy The Good Men Project ad free

So hush now child and don’t you cry
Your folks might understand you by and by
move on up and keep on wishing
Remember your dream is your only scheme so keep on pushing

Take nothing less than the second best
Do not obey for most people say ’cause you can past the test
Move on up for a greater day
have the faith, You put your mind to it, you can surely do it
Move on up, move on up

Now listen. The bongos and horns cut a groove so deep you could ski in it. Makes you want to get up and move? Feel free….

“Superfly” was a flashy street movie. But Mayfield didn’t glorify the street. “You wanna be a junkie — why? Remember Freddy’s dead.” [To buy “The Best of Curtis Mayfield” from Amazon for a ridiculous, bargain price and get an MP3 download free, click here. To pay as much for the MP3 download alone — but why? — click here.]

And the title song? Same lesson.

The aim of his role
Was to move a lot of blow
Ask him his dream
What does it mean?
He wouldn’t know
“Can’t be like the rest”
Is the most he’ll confess
But the time’s running out
And there’s no happiness

His credo: “We’re all human beings, so we can get angry and bitter or mad, but for me it doesn’t last long. I’d rather be humble and cry tears of joy than to take on the stress and burdens of being dogged out and negative.”

His influences: Bob Marley, Tracy Chapman, Jimi Hendrix.

His affirmative message, over and over, is summarized in “We Got to Have Peace.”

And the people in the neighborhood,
Who would if they only could,
Meet and shake the other’s hand,
Work together for the good of the land.

Give us all an equal chance,
It could be such a sweet romance.
And the soldiers who are dead and gone,
If only we could bring back one,

He’d say “We’ve got to have peace”
To keep the world alive
And war to cease

In 1990, stage lighting equipment fell on Mayfield at an outdoor concert and he was paralyzed from the neck down. After a long recovery, he recorded one final album — on his back, singing a line at a time, because that’s all the air he could get into his lungs. There is no mention of this on the album.

A beautiful spirit.


‘People Get Ready’

‘Back to Living Again’ (with Aretha Franklin)

This article originally appeared on The Head Butler.

If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project, please join like-minded individuals in The Good Men Project Premium Community.


better world

Don’t like ads? Become a supporter and enjoy The Good Men Project ad free


Get the best stories from The Good Men Project delivered straight to your inbox, here.


submit to Good Men Project


Sign up for our Writing Prompts email to receive writing inspiration in your inbox twice per week.

Photo: Shutterstock