(The Story of Curtis Mayfield's Masterpiece
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'
"People Get Ready", "Meeting Over Yonder" both in 1965. "We're A
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
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
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
label was The Five Stairsteps & Cubie hit entitled, " Don't Change
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
Curtom was The Impressions' "This Is My Country", which yielded two
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
"If you have a choice of colors…which one would you choose my
"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
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
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
Raymond St. Jacques, Redd Foxx, and Calvin Lockhart, who played the
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
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
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
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,
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
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
'You didn't write that!' Gary replied, ' No'. Disappointed, the
'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 '
'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
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