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Message of civil rights anthem remains powerful
Chicago Sun-Times ^ | August 28, 2003 | CATHLEEN FALSANI Religion Reporter

Posted on 08/28/2003 7:59:41 PM PDT by Chi-townChief

People get ready

there's a train a comin'

You don't need no baggage

Just get on board

Since its release in the winter of 1965, the lyrics of the song "People Get Ready" by the Chicago group The Impressions have sunk into collective American consciousness, a civil rights anthem for the struggle that continues today in America and elsewhere.

The song, written by Curtis Mayfield, was long thought to have been inspired by the Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. shared his dream of an America where children will be judged "not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

In fact, "People Get Ready" was penned a year or two before the historic march on Washington, according to Cook County Commissioner Jerry "The Iceman" Butler, a former member of the Impressions.

Mayfield, who didn't attend the 1963 march, never minded that people thought it was because it was inspired by the same issues that launched the march, Butler said.

"When we started performing back in the 1950s around town here, it was right after Emmett Till was slain," Butler said, referring to the 14-year-old black Chicago boy who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 after he reportedly whistled at a white woman.

"All of those things impacted on us because we were Till's age. . . . Then we got involved in terms of being aware of what was happening in the South, in particular, and in our neighborhoods in general. All of that, I think, influenced his writings," Butler said.

Mayfield's song--the first successful gospel-influenced song to become a crossover hit on the Billboard charts--is laced with spiritual and biblical language.

People get ready

For the train to Jordan

Picking up passengers from coast to coast

Faith is key

Open the doors and board them

There's hope for all among the love the most

Mayfield, who died in 1999, said his own religious upbringing influenced the lyrics in "People Get Ready" and other songs.

Butler met Mayfield at Traveling Souls Spiritualist Church, a congregation led by Mayfield's grandmother, the Rev. A.B. Annabelle Mayfield, in a basement on the West Side, Butler recalled.

The train image finds its roots in Negro spirituals and hymns from the black Baptist and Pentecostal movements that predate the 1960s civil rights movement by generations, said Sherry Sherrod DuPree, archivist for the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in Detroit.

"In the slavery times," Sherrod said, " it always meant going north, that something else was getting ready to happen that meant something positive in their life."

"That's the same thing in the religious connotation--you're moving from all this stress and bondage into a whole new arena and it's going to be a happy day."

The Impressions' "People Get Ready" has been covered dozens of times since it debuted on the Billboard charts on March 25, 1965. Artists as varied as reggae's Ziggy Marley and the Melodymakers, gospel's Blind Boys of Alabama and Al Green, soul queen Aretha Franklin, folk's Bob Dylan and John Gorka, the Neville Brothers, the Staple Singers, Rod Stewart Jeff Beck and U2 have all had a crack at Mayfield's anthem.

Butler believes the song's universal appeal is in its message.

"It lends itself to any situation. People get ready for war, people get ready for peace, people get ready for love, people get ready. There's a new day a comin'. People get ready to get involved. People get ready for the re-coming of Jesus. People get ready for the advent of the Buddha. People get ready for whatever's comin'."

"Get ready spiritually, get ready musically, get ready physically," he said. "Get ready, 'cause it's comin'."

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; Extended News; News/Current Events; US: Illinois
KEYWORDS: civilrights; music
Mayfield and the Impressions made quite a bit of great music back then ("Check Out Your Mind" was one of my favorites) and it's a real shame that the Impressions broke up and, by the early 70s, Curtis had pretty much become a parody of himself turning out garbage like "Mighty, Mighty Spade and Whitey" and "Superfly."
1 posted on 08/28/2003 7:59:42 PM PDT by Chi-townChief
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To: Chi-townChief
I like the blue-eyed soul Stewart/Beck rendition. Jeff Beck just rips it up.
3 posted on 08/28/2003 8:06:09 PM PDT by thegreatbeast (Quid lucrum istic mihi est?)
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To: thegreatbeast
I always kind of went for the Chambers Brothers "full gospel" treatment.
4 posted on 08/28/2003 8:10:20 PM PDT by Chi-townChief
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To: ExGuru
"The "civil rights struggle" does NOT continue today in America. That struggle is over. Today's struggle is the struggle for racial preferences. "

also; be careful who n what you quote.
you might have to pay a "royalty fee..."

5 posted on 08/28/2003 8:14:09 PM PDT by hoot2
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To: ExGuru
That's kind of interesting that you say that because I always appreciated the tune as a religious song more than a civil rights anthem. It reminds me of Jackie Robinson when we were kids - we all knew he was the first black modern major leaguer but, more importantly, he was the guy who stole home in the world series. Now, you have to speak of him as a civil rights saint which, in my opinion, somewhat diminishes his universal appeal as a great ballplayer.

And if this isn't making much sense, it's because it's getting to be bedtime for me.
6 posted on 08/28/2003 8:16:14 PM PDT by Chi-townChief
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To: Chi-townChief
Right! The Chambers Brothers were fantastic. I wasn't sure they'd done it too. Time is one of those songs I P2P'd onto my HD. Great group.
7 posted on 08/28/2003 9:35:57 PM PDT by thegreatbeast (Quid lucrum istic mihi est?)
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To: thegreatbeast
If I recall, "People Get Ready" is on "The Time has Come" album; I have it buried somewhere in the basement. And then about a year later they totally smoked Otis Redding's "I Can't Turn You Loose." SOCK IT TO ME NOW!!!!
8 posted on 08/29/2003 5:08:00 AM PDT by Chi-townChief
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To: Chi-townChief
Chambers Brothers

Chambers Brothers BUMP!

My favorite as well.

9 posted on 08/29/2003 6:50:55 AM PDT by happygrl
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