Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

May/June 2017: Buster Williams (Festival Edition)

Mavis Staples

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Mavis Staples has been rocking the blues and gospel scene since the early 1950s. In the early days, she performed with her family group, The Staple Singers, in local churches in the Chicago area. From the beginning, audiences were struck by the power and intent behind Staples’ voice. She always sounded more mature than her age.

In 1963, The Staple Singers performed a concert in Montgomery, Alabama, which was attended by Dr Martin Luther King Jr. That experience changed them. They had a chance to talk with Dr King after the show, and from there forward, their music became more explicitly connected to the American Civil Rights movement.

The Staple Singers reached their greatest success when they moved into a more R&B-style of writing in the 70s. They had several soulful chart-toppers, including “Let’s Do It Again” and “I’ll Take You There.”

Around the same time, Mavis Staples was beginning to strike out on her own, and she has had a long and impressive career. She has recorded with a diverse lineup of artists, including Ray Charles, John Scofield, and Bob Dylan with whom she was nominated for a 2003 Grammy. (Dylan was a long-time friend of the family who apparently proposed to her—she turned him down.) In 2011, Staples won her first Grammy for You Are Not Alone, in the Best Americana category.

Mavis Staples, now 77, is showing no signs of slowing down. Last year, she released Livin’ On a High Note, an upbeat album. I felt an instant connection two minutes into the first song, “Take Us Back.” The lyrics—“I got help from the people who love me”—really resonate with me. This album is full of honest storytelling and feel-good vibes, with a good mix of light to heavier instrumentation from track to track.

Mavis Staples will light up the stage at the Burton Cummings Theatre on June 21 at the TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival. She continues to create music with hope and heart, and to show us how to live on that high note. Hope to see you there!

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