Here in Chicago, music fans know Linda Clifford as a singer affiliated with Curtis Mayfield’s camp in the disco era. But Clifford, a native New Yorker, is also a former Miss New York State, and at one time worked as an actress who played minor roles in major films like The Boston Strangler with Tony Curtis and Henry Ford and Sweet Charity with Shirley MacLaine.
Still performing today, she is best known for the cuts from her 1978 debut album on Curtom: “If My Friends Could See Me Now” (#1 on the Disco Charts), and “Runaway Love” (#3 on the R&B Charts). Backed by The Jones Girls, her Curtom hits were electrifying, and fully Chicago-bred in an era when the City’s influence on popular music was waning (after the peak of Chicago Soul, and before the House Explosion).
Below, it’s Linda Clifford dishing it out with a televised performance of “Runaway Love”. Jive on!
Here’s a tasty slice of funk from the Duke of Earl himself, Gene Chandler. Masterfully dapper, ever-so-smooth, Chandler gets funky on this Checker side from 1969. An early version of the Curtis Mayfield-penned track titled “Hard Times”, the record manifests a ‘creature feature’ vibe that’s fits this time of year like a rubber mask.
An alumnus of Englewood High School, Chandler is one of the founding fathers of Chicago Soul, having begun recording around 1960. Click here for my interview with him. You can’t see it, but that day he wore an O.G. diamond encrusted pinky ring that read “Gene”. Smooth.
Not unlike many movies that are labeled as “Blaxploitation”, the soundtrack to Sparkle (1976) is often regarded more highly than the film itself. A Curtis Mayfield-produced gem sung by Aretha Franklin, the soundtrack to the movie is glorious… but laden with its share of controversy. What’s controversial?
First, the film is a pre-Dreamgirls rags-to-riches story of three girls with dreams of stardom. Each of the main actresses (Lonette McKee, Irene Cara, and Dwan Smith) could all sing well enough to not be dubbed out of the movie; but apparently Warner Bros. thought not well enough to sell REAL LIFE records. Sort of ironic. Notably, in the movie, the somewhat unpolished vocals work well (after all, the singers were supposed to be kids coming up from the streets).
Back to the rags-to-riches story. So there’s the three girls. Enter stage left the young well-meaning Svengali producer character (played by Phillip Michael Thomas) whose dreams ride heavily on their success. Ultimately, a slippery force named Satin cracks the glossy veneer of Sister (the sophisticated lead vocalist played by McKee), and it seems all their dreams are derailed. Sparkle (Irene Cara) is forced to take over the Lead Vocalist’s role, rising from the ashes. A Star is Born, and Phillip Michael Thomas (as Stix) is willing to gamble everything to see their dreams come true.
What I like most about this movie is the locomotive power of their dreams, and the entrepreneurial spirit that runs through the tale.
Who doesn’t love a righteous dream, bigger than the span of your arms?
NOTE: Curtis Mayfield (who composed the music for the movie) came up in the Cabrini Green housing projects here in Chicago and had a rags-to-riches story of his own to tell, although the projects were a far different place in those days.