Courtesy of Curtis Mayfield Estate

Courtesy of Curtis Mayfield Estate Credit: Curtis Mayfield (Courtesy of Curtis Mayfield Estate)

One of America's greatest soul singers, Curtis Mayfield, would have turned 70 last month had he not died in 1999.

Mayfield was among the first soul singers to write about political and social issues, with songs like "People Get Ready" and "Keep on Pushing" becoming part of the soundtrack to the civil rights movement.

This Friday, artists including Mavis Staples, Sinead O'Connor and The Roots will join Mayfield's old band The Impressions to pay tribute to him.

amNewYork spoke with his Impressions bandmate Fred Cash.

What was it like working with Curtis? It was a great experience. He was a great writer, a great producer and a great musician.

What do you wish more people knew about him? How really talented he was. Do people really know what kind of a writer this guy was? I know a lot of people have sampled music we recorded, but I'm still looking for a situation where he can get his just due for what he contributed, like on one of those big awards shows.

At the time, did you realize how important your songs were to the civil rights movement? We were so young. We didn't know these songs were going to be as worldwide as they were until we started talking to [politician and activist] Andrew Young about how the movement was using them. I think Curtis had his finger on the pulse[of] the movement.

What do you think is Curtis' legacy? His body of great work that is still standing up today. We just came back from Madrid and heard [young] people singing these songs. It did my heart good to know that our music is still so popular all over the world. 

If you go: "Here But I'm Gone: A 70th Birthday Tribute to Curtis Mayfield" is at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center on Friday at 8 p.m., 10 Lincoln Center Plz., 212-957-1709, $35-$85.

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