Sunday, April 21, 2024

“Sparkle” and “Superfly” Composer Curtis Mayfield Will Get All Star Lincoln Center Tribute


“Sparkle” — the movie billed as Whitney Houston’s last recording, last appearance, etc– came from the music of Curtis Mayfield. The 1976 film featured five Mayfield songs. One of them became a huge hit for Aretha Franklin–“Giving Him Something He Can Feel.” Twenty years later, it was a hit again for En Vogue. Now “Sparkle” is back, opening August 17th, from Tri-Star/Sony. Jordin Sparks and Houston are the stars, with Derek Luke. On Monday the Hollywood Reporter screwed up the announcement of the soundtrack. They said, “seven songs by Jordin Sparks.” She didn’t write them, my friends. She’s a very good singer, but she didn’t write them.

Four of the songs in the new movie come from the old movie–they were written by Curtis Mayfield, who died in 1999 at the age of 57. He’d been paralyzed for years after a terrible accident: a lighting rig fell on him during an outdoor show in Brooklyn. Sometimes people forget, when an artist is dead, that they were actual people, and left behind families. Curtis Mayfield had a wonderful wife, Altheida, and a brood of lovely kids.

I’m told they haven’t heard a word from Tri Star about the “Sparkle” remake. So I will do the introductions. The Mayfields live in Atlanta. The movie premiere is August 16th in Los Angeles. It’s time for someone from the studio to pick up the phone and make “Sparkle” a good experience for the family of the man who wrote those memorable songs. No one seems to know if there’s a credit in the film that says “Original songs by Curtis Mayfield.” There should be one.

On a similar note, Mayfield wrote all the songs that became another movie: “Superfly.” The title song, “Freddie’s Dead,” and “Pusherman” were big hits on the radio. Now a Broadway show is allegedly coming together based on the movie, which was directed by Gordon Parks. The Mayfields are still waiting for a call from former Sony music Tommy Mottola– listed as a producer–or the Dodger Group, which also produced “Jersey Boys.” How completely odd. If you, dear reader, were behind “Sparkle” or “Superfly,” wouldn’t you pick up the phone and call the composer’s widow? Hmmmm…

Meantime, some people are respecting Curtis Mayfield, who also created The Impressions, and wrote dozens of hits including “People Get Ready,” “Gypsy Woman,” “Monkey Time,” “Um Um Um Um Um,” “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You),” “Move on Up” and “It’s All Right (to Have a Good Time).”

Lincoln Center is putting together a one night only superstar 70th birthday tribute to Curtis on July 20th. (That’s right–Curtis Mayfield would now be the age of contemporary classic songwriters Paul McCartney and Carole King.)

It’s going to be amazing. Among the performers: Sinéad O’Connor, The Roots, Meshell Ndegeocello, William Bell,  The Impressions, Mavis Staples, and a 14-piece house band led by music director Binky Griptite of the Dap-Kings. The concert takes place at Avery Fisher Hall. The Mayfields will be sitting right up front. Tickets start at $35.00. For more information about the Curtis Mayfield 70th Birthday Tribute, call 212-721-6500 or visit the Avery Fisher Hall box office or

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Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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