Home Music American anthem ‘We’re a Winner’ was one of many first hits centered on Black satisfaction : NPR

American anthem ‘We’re a Winner’ was one of many first hits centered on Black satisfaction : NPR

American anthem ‘We’re a Winner’ was one of many first hits centered on Black satisfaction : NPR



By the mid-’60s, Curtis Mayfield was already a star.


CURTIS MAYFIELD: (Singing) Individuals prepare. There is a practice a-coming. You do not want no baggage. You simply get on board.

DETROW: He had been in The Impressions for years, and with songs like “Individuals Get Prepared,” his work was starting to get extra political. But it surely wasn’t till the 1967 hit “We’re A Winner” that Mayfield sang immediately about Black satisfaction. All this week, to mark the Fourth of July vacation, we have been revisiting a few of the songs which have develop into different types of American anthems. NPR’s Eric Deggans has this dispatch from 2019, when he went to Chicago to trace down the story behind “We’re A Winner.”


ERIC DEGGANS: It appears like Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions recorded it throughout a celebration, however “We’re A Winner” had a message as severe as demise and taxes.


MAYFIELD: (Singing) We’re a winner. And by no means let anyone say, effectively, you possibly can’t make it ‘trigger a feeble thoughts is in your approach…

DEGGANS: I used to be 2 years outdated when “We’re A Winner” was first launched, however I grew up in a house stuffed with Mayfield and The Impressions, because of my record-buying mom. And at the same time as a younger Black youngster in Gary, Ind., I felt a dose of hope and satisfaction from listening to lyrics like, by no means let anyone say, boy, you possibly can’t make it ‘trigger a feeble thoughts is in your approach.


MAYFIELD: (Singing) We’re transferring on up, transferring on up. Lord have mercy, we’re transferring on up, transferring on up.

DEGGANS: I did not understand it then, however earlier than “We’re A Winner,” there weren’t many hit songs by Black artists telling Black individuals to be proud. It meant one thing to listen to a melody pouring out of the radio, telling me equality was simply across the nook. So it was a deal with to ask Sam Gooden, who sang alongside Mayfield and The Impressions, what impressed the music. He mentioned Mayfield wrote “We’re A Winner” to assist civil rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr. as a result of the group was working an excessive amount of to truly march with them.

SAM GOODEN: He mentioned, this specific music is a music that I feel we must always use to unfold a few of Dr. King’s messages throughout the nation. We felt that it could uplift not solely our individuals however all individuals.

DEGGANS: Seems “We’re A Winner” was third in a development of hit songs for Mayfield, with every tune speaking extra explicitly concerning the struggle for equality. First got here “Maintain On Pushing” in 1964.


THE IMPRESSIONS: (Singing) Carry on pushing. I’ve obtained to maintain on pushing.

DEGGANS: “Maintain On Pushing” delivered a normal message of encouragement. A yr later, the hit “Individuals Get Prepared” mentioned justice was coming quickly.


THE IMPRESSIONS: (Singing) Individuals, prepare. There is a practice a-coming…

DEGGANS: “We’re A Winner” arrived in 1967. Fred Money, who additionally sang with Mayfield and Gooden in The Impressions, mentioned Mayfield labored as a one-man hit machine, writing the music and lyrics for songs by himself, usually once they had been touring.

FRED CASH: He would write 1 or 2 o’clock within the morning, sitting on the aspect of the mattress together with his guitar and his gown on. And if he felt like he had one thing that he wished us to listen to, he would knock on the door – would not care if we had been asleep or what.

DEGGANS: Sam Gooden says by then, Mayfield was irritated by criticism The Impressions’ messages had been too obscure.

GOODEN: I feel he obtained a bit offended. And he mentioned, why beat across the bush? Why not simply stroll proper straight up and simply say what you are going to say? And so they prefer it, or they do not prefer it.

DEGGANS: Now, as a child, I assumed “We’re A Winner’s” lyrics all the time included in-your-face references to Martin Luther King Jr. and the stereotype of an Uncle Tom. But it surely seems he solely sang these lyrics in a 1971 live performance recording from the album, “Curtis/Stay!”


MAYFIELD: (Singing) There will be no extra Uncle Tom. Finally, that blessed day has come, and we’re a winner. And everyone is aware of it, too. We’ll simply carry on pushing, like Martin Luther informed you to…

DEGGANS: In response to Money and Gooden, producer Johnny Pate mentioned there was no approach these lyrics might go within the studio model in 1967. Pate, now age 95, does not keep in mind that. However as a jazz musician who might learn and write music, he does keep in mind having a sure angle about self-taught R&B gamers like Mayfield.

JOHNNY PATE: I type of appeared down upon them as a result of these guys cannot even write the music, you already know? After which sooner or later it hit me due to Curtis. Here is a man who’s writing what he feels. No, he cannot put it down on paper, however that is what he is – positively feels in his coronary heart and his soul.

DEGGANS: In response to Money and Gooden, regardless of the toned-down lyrics, some radio stations nonetheless would not play “We’re A Winner,” one thing Mayfield talked about on the “Curtis/Stay!” album.


MAYFIELD: Complete lot of stations did not wish to play that exact recording, “We’re A Winner.” I’d say, the best way I am certain most of you’ll say, we do not give a rattling. We’re a winner anyway. Proper on.


DEGGANS: WLS was a robust High 40 radio station in Chicago. Fred Money and Sam Gooden say the white, pop oriented WLS would not play “We’re A Winner” as a result of it sounded too militant. However Clark Weber, who was program director on the 50,000-watt station again then, says it simply did not have the fitting sound.

CLARK WEBER: The R&B sound was sufficient for many white stations to say, I am sorry, we will not. My viewers would reply saying, what are you doing taking part in that? And sponsors would name and say, that market is just not the market I am going after. I am in search of an prosperous white market, and you are not giving me that type of viewers.

DEGGANS: Nonetheless, “We’re A Winner” grew to become a No. 1 R&B hit and High 20 pop hit. The music appeared to strike a nerve. A yr later, in 1968, Sly and the Household Stone launched their hit plea for equality, “On a regular basis Individuals.” And James Brown crafted his basic Black satisfaction anthem.


JAMES BROWN: (Singing) Say it loud.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) I am Black, and I am proud.

DEGGANS: Addressing civil rights might develop into a hit-making technique. The Reverend Jesse Jackson says Mayfield had a expertise for reaching {the marketplace}. The civil rights chief was a longtime buddy of Mayfield’s, who carried out at one of many legendary expos held by Jackson’s Operation PUSH in Chicago throughout the early Nineteen Seventies. After I requested about Mayfield’s influence, Jackson talked about how music might sway individuals when protests did not.

JESSE JACKSON: It is all about wrestle. Chris might put that to music. I can say that in a speech or a sermon. Chris might precise from that rhythm and music. Music is the medium for the message. And so “We’re A Winner” is part of that legacy.

DEGGANS: Mayfield left The Impressions in 1970 for a solo profession. In 1990, he was paralyzed after a chunk of scaffolding fell on him at a live performance. He died in 1999. I talked to Aaron Cohen, writer of “Transfer On Up: Chicago Soul Music And Black Cultural Energy.” He says Mayfield’s accident got here simply as journalists started writing extra about his affect.

AARON COHEN: I keep in mind this within the late Eighties, when Public Enemy and Ice-T had been popping out with their, you already know, very outspoken raps, individuals began to comprehend that Curtis Mayfield was the forefather of lots of that. And the tragedy is that was simply earlier than the accident in Brooklyn.


MAYFIELD: (Singing) ‘Trigger we’re a winner, and everyone is aware of it too…

DEGGANS: For me, greater than 50 years later, “We’re A Winner’s” upbeat, easy enchantment certifies Mayfield’s legacy as a neatly subversive activist, inspiring different artists to mix potent social commentary with an irresistible beat.


MAYFIELD: (Singing) Lord, have mercy. We’re movin’ on up.

DEGGANS: I am Eric Deggans.


THE IMPRESSIONS: (Singing) Movin’ on up.

MAYFIELD: (Singing) Lord, have mercy. We’re movin’ on up.

THE IMPRESSIONS: (Singing) Movin’ on up.

DETROW: That story was a part of our American Anthem collection, and it initially aired in 2019. Tune in tomorrow for one more installment as we revisit Antonin Dvorak’s “New World Symphony.”


MAYFIELD: (Singing) All people is aware of it, too. We’ll simply carry on pushing, like your leaders inform you to. Finally, that blessed day has come, and I do not care the place you come from. We’re all movin’ on up.

THE IMPRESSIONS: (Singing) Movin’ on up.

MAYFIELD: (Singing) Lord, have mercy. We’re movin’ on up.

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