Chancellor of Soul's Chronicles-Journals Dedicated To The
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                                                            Choice of Colors
                          (The Story of Curtis Mayfield's Masterpiece Composition)



          Two powerhouse words during the latter part of the 1960's would become a staple in the minds of many Afro-Americans.  "Black Power". These words echoed before and after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. It injected many chest-busting pride and encouragement throughout communities and inflicted many social and political changes. The lyrics in various soul songs released in that era, began to incorporate messages of love, faith, hope, courage, and understanding. Curtis Mayfield's food for thought lyrics in his music began in 1964 with 4 of his civil rights anthems.  ' Keep On Pushing' (1964). "People Get Ready",  "Meeting Over Yonder" both in 1965.  "We're A Winner" in 1968  and this masterpiece gem in 1969 entitled, " Choice Of Colors". In this case you might say this composition was sort of a wake call to American society, during it's turmoil. Curtis wrote this brilliant piece to appeal to the subconscious of the people and quote,  'Wake Up! '. The story begins in 1968 when Curtis Mayfield and his then partner Eddie Thomas established the label Curtom. The name was formed from the first 3 letters of Curtis' name CURtis and the last letters of Eddie Thomas' name  THOMas  removing the 'H' spelling it  CURTOM. The label was at first a black logo. Then it was rechristened as a yellow logo with it's motto,  "We're A Winner", featuring Gemini twins, Curtis' astrological sign and the Cancer sign for Eddie Thomas. The first single released from the new yellow
label was The Five Stairsteps & Cubie hit entitled, " Don't Change Your Love" b/w  " New Dance Craze"  sung by Cubie  who was 3 years old at the time ! It hit No 16 on Billboard's R&B Singles charts for 9 weeks. The first LP released on  Curtom was The Impressions'  "This Is My Country", which yielded two hits, "Fool
For You
"  and the title track. The album hit No 5 on Billboard's R&B LP charts and stayed for an astonishing 26 weeks!  Next was 2nd Impressions masterpiece album called,  "The Young Mods Forgotten Story" released in the spring of 1969. It would yield 3 soul classics,  "My Deceiving Heart" (No 23) on April 5,   "Seven Years"  (No 15) on May 10 and finally, " Choice Of Colors". The LP hit No 21 on June 7.  In the case of  'Choice Of Colors' let's analyze its lyrics.
 
"If you have a choice of colors…which one would you choose my brothers? "If there was no day or night… which would you prefer to be right?

Curtis points out the fact that if there were total darkness in the world, we couldn't see how to choose our preference of colors. We would no other alternative but to get along. The next lyrics are refrains.

"How long have you hated your white teacher?"…Who told you to love your black preacher?"

Curtis is scolding your conscience. What right do we have to hate anyone because of his or her ethnic background! Who says that loving the black preacher was an answer to our spiritual prayers?  This statement caused a stir among church goers because as children under the influence of our parents, we were raised to respect our teachers and preachers. Curtis was also relating to the thievery that took place among the preachers when the collection plate was past around the congregation. The subject matter was in fact featured in a motion picture entitled,  'Cotton Comes To Harlem', starring Godfrey Cambridge, Raymond St. Jacques, Redd Foxx, and Calvin Lockhart, who played the role of Deke O' Malley,  a crooked preacher who steals 87,000 dollars from the black community in Harlem by running a fake Back To Africa organization scam. It was directed by legendary actor Ossie Davis adapted from the 1964 Chester Himes novel of the same title. Also in the summer of 1970, singer / songwriter Paul Kelly wrote a song based on the crooked preacher called, "Stealing In The Name Of The Lord'  on the Tiger label. The controversial song caused the church community to put pressure on all of the various soul radio stations to have it banned but the record buying public loved it!  It hit No 5 on the R&B Singles charts.


The third lyric of Choice Of Colors:

'Do you respect…your brother's woman friend?'

Curtis questions our weakness of lust and lack of respect for another man's woman. It's a tool he uses again in the subconscious in all us as humans with the thought of temptation running though our minds the minute we think a good thing comes along. 

'And share with black folks …not of kin'

The forth line is a lesson that questions our selfish behavior.

The late great Donny Hathaway and Johnny Pate who by this time left The Impressions former label ABC Records arranged Choice Of Colors. The musicians featured are Lenny Brown on bass, Billy Griffith on drums, Curtis Mayfield on guitar and Donny Hathaway on keyboards. Curtis, Sam Gooden and Fred Cash arranged the vocals. 'Choice of Colors' climbed to No 1 on August 16, 1969, just one month shy of the famous Apollo 11 moonwalk on Sunday July 20, by astronaut Neil Armstrong.  My favorite part of the song is towards the end of the record where the Impressions chant the lead refrain 3 times while the violins strike a high pitch chord in the string. In the background you hear the vibes gorgeously creep in so softly, I envision a pebble being tossed in the pond and how the vibration divides into 4 rings. It was pure music genius. In 1986, I conducted an interview with the legendary New York radio personality Gary Byrd for my communications course at BMCC (Borough Of Manhattan  Community College) in New York. The subject was, ' The Evolution of Rap'.  While we chatted about his fond memories as a top jock on WWRL, top soul AM radio station at the time, he talked about one particular night show he did where a listener called in to express his feelings about the new group, 'The Last Poets', who were becoming well known around the country for their militant poetry.  Gary agreed with him but said you got to check out this bad jam by the Impressions called  ' Choice Of Colors'.  He then proceeded to rap the lyrics on the air over a popular instrumental tune called, ' Cissy Strut'  by the Meters. The listener was so impressed he asked Gary did he write that? Gary went on to explain that the lyrics were written by Curtis Mayfield and is featured on the Impressions' latest LP, ' The Young Mods Forgotten Story'. The listener quoted 'You didn't write that!'  Gary replied, ' No'.  Disappointed, the listener said, 'Aw man' then hung up.  In the spring of 1971, Gary signed with Real Thing Records to record the first rap protest song, ' Every Brother Ain't  A Brother'  b/w ' Are You Really Ready For Black Power' and 5 years later  ' The Crown' with Stevie Wonder. 


'Choice of Colors' was a song specially written to try to reevaluate and open our minds.  It's still fresh to listen to today as was in 1969 because in today's society social issues pertaining to our communities are deteriorating. Nothing has really change, except time. You have to remember that 1969 was a different time, a different place, a different era.  Just because good wine is left in a cellar for a certain amount of time it doesn't mean it will lose it's after taste. However you pour it, it'll still sparkle in the glass. 'Choice of Colors' is one of those gems that continue to stimulate the musical taste buds whenever listened to, like aged wine.

Thank you brother Curtis for leaving us music fans food for thought and reminding us that the wrong choice can become detrimental to our mind and how beautiful a rainbow looks after a stormy weather by simple following the golden rule.



                                                   Wake Up And Enjoy!!!
                                                          Mike Boone
                                                    (Chancellor of Soul)

                                                           June 2004

 

 

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