The life of a prolific musician told by his son

CHICAGO (WGN) — Todd Mayfield is the second oldest son of musician Curtis Mayfield.

He recently spoke about his book “The Traveling Soul” and the recent film option on the story of his famous father.

“The Traveling Soul” chronicles the prolific songwriter’s career from cradle to grave, including how he learned to play the guitar at age 10, but couldn’t read or write music.

He also wrote the lyrics to his first song at age 15.

Curtis Mayfield grew up in Chicago. It was there that he began singing at the Traveling Soul Spiritualist Church on the South Side. This is where Todd Mayfield got the title of his book.

“It’s very personal,” Todd Mayfield said. “When I told my family members I was going to write a book, there was a lot of trepidation, like, ‘What are you going to say?’ This kind of thing. I tried not to hurt, but at the same time I had to be real.

Most remember Curtis Mayfield for his signature falsetto voice.

“He’s a tenor with falsetto elements, because his speaking voice wasn’t high pitched. He didn’t have a high-pitched voice,” Todd Mayfield said. “That was how he thought he could stand out.”

It was a voice that some say could move millions with its tone and message to the people during a time of turmoil in the 1960s with riots, a raging war and the civil rights movement. His music was often controversial, with many radio stations refusing to play his records

“His music resonates today,” said Todd Mayfield. “I think he would probably say the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Much of Curtis Mayfield’s life is reflected in the over 800 songs he wrote during his career. From the righteous and socially conscious songs of impressions in the 50s and 60s to his later music like the multimillion-selling “Superfly” album in 1970 and much more.

He was singing Doo Wop in the streets of his neighborhood of Cabrini Green with his pal and future member of the impression group Jerry Butler.

Later, the city of Chicago named a street in his honor in this neighborhood.

“When they moved to Cabrini Green in the townhouses right there on Hudson Street, it was a godsend to them,” Todd Mayfield said. “It was the first time for them that they had indoor plumbing and their own accommodation.”

The Impressions landed their first record deal in Chicago, with the song “For Your Precious Love” on Vee-Jay Records.

Some may call Mayfield a musical genius, a phenomenon. He owned his own Curtom label, which Todd Mayfield ran for him for years in the 90s.

“He was one of those precursors. He was different and found success early on,” Todd Mayfield said. “He found himself very early,” he said. Most people don’t know what they want to be when they are 10-12 years old.

Curtis Mayfield suffered a debilitating accident in 1990 when lighting equipment fell on him during an outdoor concert in New York. It paralyzed him from the neck down. Yet he was still recording music.

“He must be the only paraplegic in the world to have released a studio album on a major label,” said Todd Mayfield.

Nine years after his accident, Curits Mayfield died aged just 57.