88.5 FM and The Soraya proudly present Mavis Staples with Son Little at The Soraya on the CSUN campus.
To honor this legendary icon, we present you with a song a day leading up to her show on Thursday, February 13.
Bob Dylan remembers hearing this song when it first came out and described it as "the most mysterious thing I ever heard”. In 1952, children Cleotha, Pervis, Yvonne and 13 year old Mavis joined their father, Roebek “Pops” Staples to form The Staple Singers and signed their first recording contract. Their first single to garner attention was “Uncloudy Day”, a gospel song written in 1879. Mavis shines on this track when she starts soloing at 1:30 seconds into the song. Her deep voice seems to carry more weight and feeling than you would expect from a teenage girl and it’s probably the sound that piqued a young Bob Dylan’s attention.
This re-working of the Buffalo Springfield classic established the Staple Singers as not just Gospel singers but as an artistic group willing to tackle Civil Rights issues. Now signed to a major label in Epic Records, the Staple Singers are bridging the sacred and secular into music with a message helping to create a new genre of music, “Soul-Folk”.
From her second solo album, Only For The Lonely, Mavis clearly shines as you can hear the pain and determination in her delivery about a woman that’s going to do just fine without a man that left her for another. A Billboard Magazine review for this album compared her voice to Aretha Franklin, Nancy Wilson and Etta James. In an understatement, the review says she can “really deliver a song”. The song became her highest charting solo single peaking at number 13 on the R&B charts.
Another pivot from the Staple Singers as they are now on Stax and their crossover appeal is apparent. Pervis Staples has left the band and is replaced with sister Yvonne. The album, The Staple Swingers is produced by legendary Stax producer and co-owner, Art Bell and is their first to enter the top ten on the Soul Album Charts. This single reaches number 6 on the R&B charts and gets up to #27 on the Pop Charts.
This was the first single from their classic Be Altitude: Respect Yourself album. It launched the Staple Singers into the mainstream of pop music. The song is a call to the black community to respect themselves so Mavis adds a little more grit and funk to her vocals. Music fans of all genres loved it as the song hit #2 on the R&B charts and #12 on the pop charts. Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time
Well you can’t have a discussion of Mavis Staples and The Staple Singers without mentioning this song. It went to #1 on both the Pop and R&B charts. It even went international as a top 20 hit in the UK and hitting #7 in South Africa. In 1991, Mavis guested on BeBe and CeCe Winans cover of the song which hit the top of the R&B charts. Recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, Mavis holds nothing back while encouraging the musicians with her cries of “Come on Now! and “Mercy!” during the instrumental breaks. The song has been described as the epitome of the Muscle Shoals Sound and it has not aged one bit.
Mavis likes to open up her concerts with this song and who could blame her? It’s a song that invites you to travel with her to a place where “No hatred will be tolerated. Peace love all between the races. Love is the only transportation”. The song was a top ten pop hit and was a number 1 Billboard Hot Soul Single
It’s an iconic performance from possibly the greatest concert film of all time, “The Last Waltz”. The documentary is The Band’s final performance on Thanksgiving however, Levon Helm deemed it “too lily-white and missing something crucial.” And so, not long after the show, the Staples Singers, old friends of the Band, performed “The Weight” on an M.G.M. soundstage in front of an audience of two hundred and fifty people. Memorably, As the song finishes up, the camera settles on the Staples family. Mavis, closest to the camera, throws her head back, leans toward the mic, and says, almost inaudibly, “Beautiful.” Truer words have never been spoken. Mavis often encores her shows with this song.
Here’s a fun curveball. The Staple Singers cover The Talking Heads with David Byrne on guitar. In Greg Kot’s biography on Mavis, David Byrne explains that ‘Slippery People’ was definitely influenced by gospel—its very gospel call-and-response chorus made it a natural fit for them.”
Byrne’s Gumby-like dance moves for Stop Making Sense had been in part inspired by the way worshippers in Southern sanctified churches responded when filled with the Holy Spirit, their bodies writhing and undulating while speaking in tongues. “David’s inspiration was seeing people in church, and that’s what I connected with,” Mavis Staples says. “My head went off into the Bible.” And so we got this amazing collaboration. Here they are performing it on Soul Train.
Mavis showcases why she is not only a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but in 2017 she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. This song off her 14th solo record We Get By features the production work of Ben Harper. Mavis talking about the album says ” These songs are delivering such a strong message. We truly need to make a change if we want this world to be better. You can feel her passion and commitment to the message in this song.