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The Impressions provided a critical link between Fifties rhythm & blues and Sixties soul. They pioneered and epitomized the sound of Chicago soul, a marriage of gospel and pop influences with a timely conscience. From the beginning, leader Curtis Mayfield was an innovative songwriter and producer whose work with the Impressions was typified by sophisticated yet celebratory grooves, elaborately detailed vocal arrangements, and lyrics that addressed and advanced the black freedom movement of the Sixties. On the strength of such indelible songs of striving and transcendence as “People Get Ready,” “Keep On Pushing,” and “We’re a Winner,” Mayfield has been credited with authoring “the soundtrack to the civil-rights movement.”
The Impressions came together as a union between Sam Gooden and brothers Richard and Arthur Brooks (members of a vocal group called the Roosters) and songwriter/producers Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfiled (of the Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers). Their debut single, “For Your Precious Love,” was a masterpiece of dramatic, resonant soul testifying that sold 900,000 copies and rose to #11 on the Top Forty. Released in 1958, it was credited to “The Impressions Featuring Jerry Butler,” and the spotlighting of the song’s lead vocalist resulted in jealousies leading to Butler’s departure that same year. For a few years thereafter the Impressions foundered, but they regained their footing and discovered their signature sound in the early Sixties with Mayfield in command. First, Mayfield cowrote and performed on “He Will Break Your Heart,” a stately soul gem that became Jerry Butler’s first solo hit. In 1961, a re-formed Impressions, which found Butler replaced by Fred Cash, released “Gypsy Woman,” a marriage of Brazilian rhythms and sensuous soul distinguished by Mayfield’s sweet, supple falsetto.
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