|Origin||Chicago, IL, U.S.|
The Impressions are an American music group from Chicago that formed in 1958 and reached its zenith in the early to mid-1960s with gospel-soul hits like "Gypsy Woman," "It's All Right," "Keep on Pushing," and "People Get Ready."
The group had an early hit as Jerry Butler and the Impressions with "For Your Precious Love." Butler soon departed the group for a solo career, and Curtis Mayfield became the Impressions' lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter. A string of major hits followed, some of which became anthems of the Civil Rights Movement and played a role in the emerging black pride movement as well.
The Impressions were inductees into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.
Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield met while singing in the same Chicago church choir. After singing in a number of local gospel groups, the two of them joined a doo-wop group called "The Roosters" in 1957, whose members included Chattanooga, Tennessee natives Sam Gooden, Richard Brooks, and his brother Arthur. By 1958, The Roosters had a new manager in Eddie Thomas, a record deal with Vee-Jay Records, and a new name: "Jerry Butler & the Impressions."
The group's first hit single, often associated with Butler alone, was 1958's "For Your Precious Love," which hit number 11 on the United States pop charts and number three on the R&B charts. Soon after the release of the R&B Top 30 hit "Come Back My Love," Butler left the group to go on to a successful solo career. After briefly touring with the now-solo Butler as his guitarist, Curtis Mayfield became the Impression's new lead singer and songwriter, and Fred Cash, a returning original Roosters member, was appointed as the new fifth member.
Mayfield wrote a number of Butler's early solo hits and used the money to get the Impressions to move to Chicago, Illinois. There, they got a new deal with ABC-Paramount Records in 1961, and released their first post-Butler single. That single, "Gypsy Woman," was their biggest single, hitting number two on the R&B charts and number 20 on the pop chart. However after successive singles failed to chart well, Richard and Arthur Brooks ended up leaving the group in 1962.
Now a trio, the Impressions soon aligned themselves with producer Johnny Pate, who helped to update their act and create a more lush soul sound for the group. The result was the gospel-soul hit "It's All Right," a 1963 gold single that topped the R&B charts and made it to number four on the pop charts, becoming one of the group's signature songs. "It's All Right" and "Gypsy Woman" were the anchors of the group's first LP, 1963's The Impressions. "Amen," an updated version of an old gospel tune, was included in the soundtrack of the 1963 MGM film Lilies of the Field, which starred Sidney Poitier.
In 1964 the group released the first of Mayfield's Black-pride anthem compositions, "Keep on Pushing," which became a top-ten smash on both the pop and R&B charts. It was also the title cut from the album of the same name, which likewise reached the top ten on both charts.
Future Mayfield compositions would often feature social and political themes, including the following year's major hit and the group's best-known song, the gospel-style "People Get Ready," which hit number three on the R&B charts and number 14 on the pop charts. Rolling Stone magazine later rated "People Get Ready" the number 24 greatest song of all time. The song was also included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll." The song formed the foundation of Bob Marley's hit "One Love" and has been covered by a wide range of artists, including Dionne Warwick, the Everly Brothers, Rod Stewart, the Chambers Brothers, John Denver, U2, Aretha Franklin, Alicia Keys, and Bob Dylan.
In the mid-1960s, the Impressions stood among the top male R&B groups and were compared with Motown acts such as The Temptations, The Miracles, and the The Four Tops. However, after 1965's "Woman's Got Soul," the Impressions failed to reach the R&B Top Ten for three more years, finally scoring in 1968 with the number nine "I Loved and Lost." "We're a Winner," which hit number one on the R&B charts that same year, represented a new level of social awareness in Mayfield's music.
The Impressions soon joined Mayfield's new Curtdom label, and over the next two years, several more Impressions' message tracks followed, including the number one R&B hit "Choice of Colors" (1969) and the number three "Check Out Your Mind" (1970).
After the release of the Check Out Your Mind LP in 1970, Mayfield left the group and began a successful solo career, the highlight of which was writing and producing the Super Fly soundtrack. He also continued to write and produce for The Impressions, who remained on Curtom. Leroy Hutson was the first new lead singer for the group following Mayfield's departure, but success eluded the Impressions, and Hutson left the group in 1973.
New members Ralph Johnson and Reggie Torian replaced Hutson, and the Impressions had three R&B Top Ten singles in 1974–1975: the number one "Finally Got Myself Together (I'm a Changed Man)" and the number three singles "Same Thing it Took" and "Sooner or Later." In 1976, the Impressions left Curtom for Cotillion Records and had their final major hit with "Loving Power." The same year, Ralph Johnson was replaced with Nate Evans, who remained in the group for three years, during which time the Impressions switched to 20th Century Records. Singles and albums sales continued to slip, however, and Evans left in 1979, reducing the group to a trio. Their final album, Fan the Flames, was released in 1981, and Reggie Torian, Fred Cash, and Sam Gooden disbanded the group two years later.
Since the early-1980s, The Impressions periodically reformed in various formats, usually recreating the classic line-up of Mayfield, Gooden, and Cash, and sometimes including Jerry Butler in the line-up. Ralph Johnson rejoined the group in 1983 and was with them until 2000.
On August 14, 1990, Mayfield was severely injured when lighting equipment fell on him during an on-stage performance in Brooklyn, New York. He died on December 26, 1999, at the age of 57.
The Impressions were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. The members who took part in this honor were Sam Gooden, Jerry Butler, Richard Brooks, Curtis Mayfield, Arthur Brooks, and Fred Cash. The group was inducted and into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2003
The Impressions still perform today, with Fred Cash, Sam Gooden, and Reggie Torian. In 2008, Universal Music & Hip O Records released Movin' On Up, the first-ever video compilation of the Impressions, featuring new interviews with original Impressions' members Sam Gooden and Fred Cash, along with taped interviews with Curtis Mayfield and video performances of the group's greatest hits and several of Mayfield's solo hits.
Impressions songs like "Keep on Pushin'" and "If I had a Choice of Colors" became anthems in the civil rights and black consciousness movement, while their gospel-soul hit "People Get Ready" has been widely covered, and their early hit "For Your Precious Love" is considered a classic R&B ballad.
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