Curtis Mayfield was born on June 3, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Marion Washington and Kenneth Mayfield, one of five children. Mayfield’s father left the family when Curtis was five; his mother (and maternal grandmother) moved the family into several Chicago public housing projects before settling in Cabrini–Green during his teen years. Mayfield attended Wells Community Academy High School before dropping out his sophomore year. His mother taught him piano and, along with his grandmother, encouraged him to enjoy gospel music. At the age of seven, he sang publicly at his aunt’s church with the Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers.
When he was 14 years old he formed the Alphatones when the Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers decided to try their luck in downtown Chicago and Mayfield stayed behind. Fellow group member Sam Gooden was quoted “It would have been nice to have him there with us, but of course, your parents have the first say.”
Later in 1956, he joined his high school friend Jerry Butler’s group The Roosters with brothers Arthur and Richard Brooks. He wrote and composed songs for this group who would become The Impressions two years later.