“CHOICE OF COLORS” (WRITER: CURTIS MAYFIELD)
ARTIST: THE IMPRESSIONS
RELEASED 1969 ON 7” 45 AND ON THE YOUNG MODS’ FORGOTTEN STORY LP
Happy Independence Day. Here’s Curtis Mayfield, one of America’s great songwriters.
Having already stated his place as a black man in America in the 1960s with the proud “This is My Country,” and singing songs of uplift like “We’re a Winner” and “Keep on Pushing,” he now cast a challenge to his fellow people of color.
Do you respect your brothers’ woman friend? And share with black folks not of kin?
As Sly Stone did in “Stand,” Mayfield seems to be urging people to stop waiting for someone else to lift them. Mayfield’s message was always that it’s all in you. And your love is better than your hate.
People must prove to the people/a better day is coming/for you and for me
With just a little bit more education/and love for our nation/we can make a better society.
While that seems impossibly square in some ways, Mayfield had lived it; he knew that hard work could get you out (and keep you out) of trouble. And as a successful black man, Mayfield had come up against his share of challenges from the often corrupt industry in which he worked.
He was an incredible musician and a hard worker. He was a positive presence in Chicago, and in the world. He got big but stayed in Chicago and helped others create music. Curtis Mayfield was a hero to me, and I don’t have many heroes among people I never met.
That he was able to cast the challenging message of “Choice of Colors” in sweeping, gorgeous, symphonic music was the gift of Curtis Mayfield. He made music to show us that your better self is stronger than anyone else’s bad self.
The lyrical and musical quotes from “We Shall Overcome” are almost too on point, but with Martin Luther King dead less than a year, it’s not as if this was canned and bottled history. Curtis Mayfield, Sam Gooden, and Fred Cash had a message to deliver and they did it with panache and skill.
This superb 45, issued in June 1969, reached just #21 on the Billboard pop chart, though it went to #1 on the magazine’s R&B list. Shamefully, top 40 stations in the Impressions’ hometown of Chicago didn’t even bother to program the record, and it also failed to get exposure on similar radio channels in New York. It was a moderate hit among pop audiences in Los Angeles, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Toronto, and huge among both black and white audiences in San Francisco/Oakland.
We’re in a lot of trouble right now in this country, with a President who spews bigotry and ignorance as his minions shred the social fabric. The only thing any of us can do right now is persevere through our current troubles, not lose hope, and not let the misguided drive us off our course of love.
Happy 4th, Curtis. America misses you.