Sinead O’Connor–yes, we also think of her ripping up the Pope’s picture on TV, causing a lot of trouble, getting married for a week in Las Vegas. So we were a little apprehensive about meeting her last night at Lincoln Center for the memorial tribute to Curtis Mayfield on what would have been his 70th birthday. But here’s what has been learned: Sinead O’Connor is a cutie pie. She’s also got a great knack for gospel. She’s funny and very pleasant. She’s also tiny. She still has the shaved head, wears a priest’s collar and a large cross.
She sang Mayfield’s song, “Jesus” with such impressive force and rhythm that all the soul singers on the Mayfield tribute, including Stax great William Bell, were wowed. O’Connor flew in from Ireland just for the occasion and is headed right home this morning. What made her do it? “I fell in love with Curtis Mayfield,” she said. Someone gave her one of Mayfield’s albums a couple of years ago, and Sinead just flipped. She literally “begged” to be in the Lincoln Center show, an insider told me. She got her wish, won over the audience, and had a ball. She was total fun all night. Go figure.
The Mayfield tribute also featured Fred Cash and Sam Gooden– the original members of his group, the Impressions, sans Jerry Butler, as well as William Bell, Mavis Staples, Meshell Ndegeocello, and TV on the Radio. There were some unknowns, too: Ryan Montbleau (a star in Boston), two singers I didn’t know–Bilal and Aloe Blacc, and a knockout newcomer named Inyang Bassey. The latter was a sensation on “Darker than Blue.” It turns out she’s been working with Moby, is unsigned, and a potential star. Record companies, listen up. This girl can sing but she’s also got style, swagger, and she’s a sweetheart. Here are a couple of links: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvH3X7vs6jQ and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWQc1eKnHXA. She may also be related to Shirley Bassey, but that’s another story.
Meantime, it was great to catch up with William Bell, who had the first hit at Stax Records in 1961 with “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” He must have been six because he doesn’t look very old now. William told great stories at dinner after the show about Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. He’s going to do a show soon down in the Atlanta area with the Allman Brothers Band. If you’re down there, don’t miss it.
By the way, Avery Fisher Hall was sold out completely for this show. It was quite a tribute to Curtis Mayfield, who died in 1999 at age 57. He left behind a beautiful, smart widow, Altheida, who’s worked diligently to preserve his legacy for her seven kids with him, and the children from his earlier relationships. Mayfield left behind such a large catalog of hits not all of them could be fit into the show last night. Indeed, at the last minute they dropped “Superfly” as an encore because time had run out. But all the artists joined in on “Move on Up” as a rousing encore.
Now, if only the producers of “Sparkle,” the Whitney Houston movie, would contact Altheida Mayfield and invite her to the Los Angeles premiere. Strangely, she still has heard nothing from Sony Tri-Star or anyone. The original “Sparkle” had five songs written by Mayfield. Four of them have been re-recorded for the new movie, including the hit “Something He Can Feel.”
read also this very good piece from the Village Voice: