As part of legendary R&B group, The Staple Singers, Mavis Staples is accustomed to having a string of smash hit songs, though none as monstrously popular as 1972’s “I’ll Take You There.” During the 2018 CMA Awards, Staples was joined on stage with Maren Morris, Chris Stapleton, and a small gospel choir to belt out the soul-stirring #1 single. It brought down the house — and the audience to their feet.
Although her 84-year-old brother Pervis was an original member until being drafted in 1969, Mavis Staples is the lone survivor of the renowned group. These days, Staples, who turns 80 on July 10, is still going strong with a full touring schedule and a brand-new album, We Get By.
The singing powerhouse recently got a jump start on birthday celebrations thanks to the Newport Folk Festival honoring her with star-studded tributes in three concert events. Back in May, artists such as Wynona Judd, Marty Stuart, David Byrne, Valerie June, and Norah Jones helped Staples rock out concerts in venues located in Los Angeles, Nashville, and New York City.
Her return to New York City’s Apollo Theatre as part of the celebration was particularly significant. The Kennedy Center honoree and Grammy-winner first appeared at the Apollo in 1956, along with her family, making this a truly emotional moment.
Staples’ new solo project features multi-instrumentalist Ben Harper on the title cut. The thoughtfully selected album cover is from a photo taken by Gordon Parks of six little African-American girls looking longingly onto a playground in 1956. Of the photo, Staples reflects upon it as a reminder of her own years growing up. As she put it, she could feel it because she and her sisters also couldn’t play in the park or go to the beach.
The Staple Singers, which consisted of Cleotha, Mavis, Yvonne and their father “Pops” on lead guitar, were deservedly inducted into Rock and Roll’s Hall of Fame in 1999. They will always be remembered for spinning out soulful grooves such as: “Let’s Do It Again” and “Respect Yourself” while delivering a message of love, hope, and equality. True to her roots on We Get By, Staples is still delivering those same messages.
The professed octogenarian keeps her vocal cords in good condition by drinking ginger tea with honey and performing voice exercises. She stays in shape by boxing regularly (using a pair of pink gloves) and has switched to a healthy diet, giving up pork chops for salmon. As for the boxing, Staples pointed out that she boxed as a kid, not realizing it was called that. The Chicago native stated kids used to pick on her because of her heavy voice thus earning them a punch or two.
In a self-titled 2015 documentary, Staples revealed that another legendary artist, Bob Dylan, had proposed to her many years ago, but the once-married singer turned down the offer. Still living her best life, Mavis Staples continues to be a constant inspiration committed to showing the world how to get by.
Public domain image of Mavis Staples