The story of an unknown legend

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The Independent Culture
You probably know Curtis Mayfield's name, but perhaps you can't think of one of his songs off the top of your head. In that case be sure to catch tonight's Omnibus (10.50pm BBC1).

Mayfield's is the glorious, life-enhancing falsetto that graces classics such as "Move on Up", "People Get Ready" and "Gypsy Woman" (he wrote that one at 12 years old). But he did it all without the support of Motown, who looked after Gaye and Wonder - even today, scandalously, there's no entry for him in the Faber Companion to 20th-Century Popular Music.

And he used his hard-won clout with his record company to release hotly political material. Radio stations became afraid to play Curtis's records in the Sixties for fear of losing sponsors; on the other hand, his songs became anthems for the burgeoning civil rights movement.

In September 1990, Curtis was playing a charity gig in a field when a lighting rig was blown over by the wind and fell on him. He's now immobilised from the neck down, and he can't sing, because his diaphragm no longer works. "I still have ideas for songs," he says wistfully, "but if you can't jot them down... they fade like dreams." He hopes for some new technology that will enable him to get back to composing. We can only hope that some boffin from Yamaha sees this film.

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