Sixty-five years into her recording career, Mavis Staples’ incomparable voice and infectious spirit are truly wonders to behold.
Born in 1939 to Oceola and Roebuck “Pops” Staples, Mavis got her start early, singing in church and at home in Chicago. Pops put together a family band, and Mavis, the youngest, soon became the star of the Staple Singers. With them, she lit up the world with songs like “I’ll Take You There,” “Let’s Do It Again,” “Respect Yourself,” and so many others.
Over the decades since, both the Gospel and the song have stayed intrinsically linked in her heart, even as she has spread her musical wings wide, working with an eclectic group of collaborators, from Jeff Tweedy to Joan Osborne, Prince to Patty Griffin. Though she has long released her own albums, it was 2011 before she won her first Grammy Award — Best Americana Album for the soul-stirring, Tweedy-produced You Are Not Alone.
But acclaim was never her game. Staples’ pull to the music seems unattached to anything other than the pure pleasure and emotional expression of the music itself. If she weren’t “Mavis Staples, the much-lauded gospel singer,” no doubt she’d still be “Mavis, that lady with the amazing voice in the church choir.” That unadulterated joy is why M. Ward, Ben Harper, Valerie June, Aloe Blacc, Justin Vernon, Neko Case, and others carved out time to write the songs for her new album, Livin’ on a High Note. The set is funky and spunky and raring to go … just like Staples herself.
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