A Song of Inspiration

Steven Torres


We're A Winner by The Impressions :

A Song of Inspiration during the Civil Rights Movement

The Impression's 1967 single "We're A Winner, written by their lead singer Curtis Mayfield, was a popular recording during the civil rights movement whose inspirational lyrical content was both culturally and politically significant. The lyrics of We're A Winner were notable culturally for providing a voice for the cultural development and affirmation of Black pride. This joining of Black culture with the lyrical arts was used politically to promote the struggle against racial inequality and that reflected a significant shift in black music toward directly increasing social consciousness to the continuing political struggles of racial inequalities prevalent during the civil rights movement.

"We're A Winner released in 1967 was recorded by The Impressions for the label ABC-Paramount. The recording session for the song took place at the Chicago studios RCA Victor and Universal.[1] The song which was written by the Impressions' lead singer, Curtis Mayfield, peaked at number 14 on the Billboard Pop Chart, and was the number one single on the Billboard R&B Chart during the spring of 1968.[2]

The concept for "We're A Winner reportedly came to Curtis Mayfield in a dream one night, and after awakening, Mayfield used the inspiration from the dream to compose the uplifting lyrics to the song. The song was intended primarily for African-American audiences and the lyrics urge the audience to "...just keep on pushin' / Like your leaders tell you to. The "leaders Mayfield was referring to included Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokely Carmichael, and other prominent figures of the Civil Rights Movement.[3] "We're A Winner is just one of several Curtis Mayfield's songs pertaining to the struggles for equality and social justice during the 1960's.

Born in Chicago on June 3, 1942, Curtis Mayfield was raised in the poverty stricken Cabrini-Green housing projects on the city's North side. His single parent seven-member family shared a tiny apartment in the projects. Fortunately, Mayfield grew up surrounded by music . Early in his childhood, Mayfield began singing publicly in church choirs by age seven. For Curtis Mayfield, music and his mother's love of poetry provided some relief from the harsh poverty and other pressures that surrounded his family.[4]

In 1957, Mayfield dropped out of high school to join a singing group called The Roosters. This group was eventually renamed The Impressions with Curtis Mayfield becoming its lead singer in 1961. With Mayfield's musical talents and the group's harmonizing vocals, The Impressions succeeded to remain near the top of the rhythm and blues charts throughout the 1960's. With 14 Top 40 Hits and five songs in the Top 20 in 1964, The Impressions managed to acquire some considerable radio air-play. In fact, Mayfield's talented musical style and intelligent, thought-provoking songwriting combined to produce some of the most evocative popular music of his generation.

Beginning in 1964, Mayfield began composing more songs with lyrics reflecting the true sentiments and appeals of the civil rights movement. Many Black Americans were becoming increasingly frustrated with the pace of the civil rights movement. Congress had already passed the Civil Rights Acts, yet school and housing desegregation moved at a sluggish pace and poverty among black Americans grew as unemployment and the lack of equal economic opportunities remained an issue.

In 1964, The Impressions released Keep On Pushing, which called on African Americans to "demand their democratic right. While most radio stations found it acceptable to play Keep on Pushing in 1964, three years later in 1967 when rioting broke out in Detroit, Newark and other American cities, several radio stations refused to play Mayfield's We're A Winner because of its "more strident appeals for African Americans to intensify their Struggle.

The lyrics of We're A Winner were meant as words of encouragement for the Black people and their culture. Mayfield as one of only a few artist of his time attempted to use his gift of music to directly address the racial politics in America.

The Lyrics of We're A Winner inspired many African-Americans during a time when change and progress had become stagnant. The lyrics also serve as a declaration of Black Pride claiming, "We're a winner and never let anybody say / Boy, you can't make it 'cause a feeble mind is in your way.

We're A Winner marked a significant change in black music. No longer were black artists reluctant to speak out about the prevailing socio-political climate of their time. They realized the power of music and its potential for delivering both important cultural and political messages. And so, Mayfield We're A Winner contains many meaningful and inspiring messages for the development of black cultural pride. This served as a powerful tool politically by calling attention to the prevailing racial, economic and social inequalities of the late 1960's.

[1]Allmusic. "We're A Winner: song review at http://allmusic.com

[2] Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. P.272

[3] Wikipedia. "We're a Winner at http://wikipedia.com

[4] Phillips, Richard (2000). "Curtis Mayfield dies: A modest man of great musical talent and sensitivity World Socialist Web Site at http://wsws.org.

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