Mayfield's career began in 1958 (see 1958 in music) when he formed The Impressions with Jerry Butler. The band had a hit with "For Your Precious Love". In 1970, Mayfield left The Impressions and began a solo career, eventually peaking with Superfly (1972), one of the most influential films, soundtracks and albums in history. The album was influential in the development of funk, rock and roll, R&B, soul, gospel and pop music. Perhaps most notably, Mayfield's lyrics included hard-hitting commentary on the state of affairs in urban ghettos at the time, unusual for black music in general and unheard of in relation to blaxploitation films.
On August 14, 1990, Mayfield was paralyzed from the neck down after some equipment fell on him at a concert in Brooklyn, New York. He was unable to perform until 1997, when he released the "New World Order album". In 1998, he had to be amputated from the right leg due to diabetes. He died on December 26, 1999 in Roswell, Georgia.