Keep On Pushing

Album: Keep On Pushing (1964)
Charted: 10

Songfacts®:

  • The Impressions leader Curtis Mayfield wrote this song, which is about perseverance and finding strength to get through the tough times. The song was a keystone of the civil rights movement, as African Americans fought for equality at a time when segregation was still accepted.
  • Mayfield kept the political message in this song subtle in an effort to give it a wider reach. Mainstream radio stations were unlikely to play a song that was clearly about the fight for freedom in the black community, so Mayfield made the lyric ambiguous enough to disguise the intention. African Americans clearly got the message, identifying it as an anthem for their struggle.

    Mayfield, who had previously written much lighter songs like "Little Young Lover" for The Impressions and "The Monkey Time" for Major Lance, became the musical voice of the civil rights movement with songs like this one and "People Get Ready."
  • Mayfield, who had a deep connection to the church, wrote this as a gospel song. The only thing he did to turn it into a pop song was to change one line, substituting "I've got my strength" for "God gave me strength." Otherwise, the song very easily could be sung in church.
  • The Impressions started out as a five-piece fronted by Jerry Butler, with Mayfield on guitar and backup vocals. Not long after scoring a hit in 1958 with "For Your Precious Love," Butler left to pursue a solo career, and by 1962 they were down to a trio, with Mayfield fronting the band alongside baritone vocalist Sam Gooden and tenor Fred Cash. This is the configuration that recorded most of their hits, including "Keep On Pushing." According to Mayfield, they were stronger as a three-man group because it was easier to lock in to the sound and keep track of the other voices.
  • This song took on a new meaning for Mayfield after he was paralyzed in 1990 when a light tower fell on him during an outdoor performance in Brooklyn. No longer able to use his body, Mayfield still continued to make music and manage his affairs. "I think my spirits are maybe even higher," he said in a 1997 interview with Goldmine. "It's like I died and woke up to see this wave of love from so many people I knew and people I didn't know."

    Mayfield took pride in his ten children and in his ability to provide for them; an astute businessman, he controlled his own publishing, which allowed him to keep his earnings high. His mind remained clear and sharp, but Mayfield's body gave out in 1999 when he died at age 57.

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