Singer Mavis Staples Performs at the Laxson Auditorium
By Phil Reser
Pride to SurviveJanuary 2015
By Phil Reser
Mavis Staples began singing as a child when her father, Roebuck “Pops” Staples, organized her and her siblings into the family Staple Singers band that moved from its roots in the church in the 1950s to the front lines of the struggle for civil rights in the ‘60s. Whether sung at mass meetings, on marches and sit-ins or on stage, freedom songs have always conveyed the moral urgency of this country’s continual campaign for racial justice and equality.
The Staple Singers performed at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s events during the ‘60s. The spiritual songs they sang and wrote often served as a metaphor for the civil rights struggle, lamenting the unfairness and racism they faced every day.
While her father created a style of guitar playing that would influence the music world for decades to come, Mavis Staples’ voice would be forever etched in the memory of those who heard her sing. The Staple Singers began to get noticed for their unique sound, crossing paths along the way with Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul, and Mary, who were hugely influential on the Staple Singers.
“If I could relive one day in my life,” says Staples, “it would be when I first met Dr King. From then, we began writing freedom songs. We started marching with him; we’d sing before he spoke at meetings. I’ve met presidents, Obama, Clinton, Carter, I even met President Kennedy, but none of them topped Dr. King.
“If I could go back and do that all over again, God have mercy, I certainly would. To meet this great man, shake his hand, to be in his presence. For him to love our music, I can’t ever forget that. I can’t ever live that down. That was my greatest moment."
She last saw him a month before he was assassinated.
“Kids today need to know he was a man who went out and risked his life to make it a better place for them, went to jail, was beat down and stabbed and in the end shot and killed,” she says.
“There's still injustice in the world today,” Staples says. “I’m still on that freedom highway, and I’m going to walk on it until Dr. King's dream is realized. I don’t know if I’ll see the day we can come together and stop the racial hatred, but I might. In the past, I’d said I didn’t
think I’d ever see a black president, and I did. You never know what tomorrow brings, so I’m just going to keep on with what I know is right.”
At 75, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee continues to enjoy a long solo recording and touring career, acclaim and new audiences, performing at the White House and headlining the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island.
The past few summers have found her featured among the hip acts at the Lollapalooza and Nelsonville music festivals. This late-in-life renaissance has been boosted in part by two wellreceived new albums produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy (“You Are Not Alone” in 2010 and “One True Vine,” 2013).
“One True Vine” reminds her of singing with her family, and she always tries to record at least one song on her albums that was written by her father, who died in 2000.
The album includes “I Like the Things About Me,” a song in which her dad used to sing the lead, when The Staple Singers were doing their thing.
More recently, she teamed with Public Enemy rapper Chuck D on “Give We the Pride,” a self-empowerment song built around Staples’ cries of “We need pride to survive!" The two artists found a common denominator in their belief that hip-hop and young people in general need more pride. The soulful cut challenges hip-hop artists and their listeners to reach higher and do better. The song is on Chuck D’s latest album, “The Black In Man.”
“These people in the music industry have put me in so many categories,” says Staples. “They put me in Americana and gospel and R&B and blues. Now, they’re going to have to add hip-hop, and I love it.”
Friday, January 16
Laxson Auditorium, Chico State University