Soul and gospel legend Mavis Staples possesses one of the most recognizable and treasured voices in contemporary music. From her early days sharing lead vocals with her groundbreaking family group, The Staple Singers, to her powerful solo recordings, Mavis Staples is an inspirational force in modern popular culture and music.
Faith comes through
A 40-year-plus veteran of the music scene - a Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductee and one of VH1's â€˜100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll' - Staples (both with The Staple Singers and on her own) is responsible for blazing a rhythm & blues trail while never relinquishing her gospel roots.
Her voice has influenced artists from Bob Dylan to Prince (who dubbed her "the epitome of soul") and she has appeared with everyone from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Bill Cosby, Presidents Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton, to Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd, Santana and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and has recorded with Bob Dylan, Los Lobos, Aretha Franklin, Marty Stuart and many others.
Back in the day
Mavis began her career with her family group in 1950. Initially singing locally at churches and appearing on a weekly radio show, the Staples' scored a hit in 1956 with "Uncloudy Day" for the VeeJay label. When Mavis graduated high school in 1957, The Staple Singers took their music on the road. Led by family patriarch Roebuck "Pops" Staples on guitar and including the voices of Mavis and her siblings Cleo, Yvonne, and Pervis, the Staples were called "God's Greatest Hitmakers."
With Mavis' voice and Pops' songs, singing, and guitar playing, the Staples evolved from enormously popular gospel singers (with recordings on United and Riverside as well as VeeJay) to become the most spectacular and influential spiritually-based group in America.
By the mid-1960's The Staple Singers, inspired by Pops' close friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., became the spiritual and musical voices of the civil rights movement. They covered contemporary pop hits with positive messages, including Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" and a version of Stephen Stills' "For What It's Worth." The Staples sang "message" songs like "Long Walk To D.C." and "When Will We Be Paid?," bringing their moving and articulate music to a huge number of young people. The group signed to Stax Records in 1968, joining their gospel harmonies and deep faith with musical accompaniment from members of Booker T. and the MGs. The Staple Singers hit the Top 40 eight times between 1971 and 1975, including two No. 1 singles, "I'll Take You There" and "Let's Do It Again," and a No. 2 single "Who Took the Merry Out of Christmas?"
Now a long ways from their early roots as a pure gospel group, The Staple Singers were bona fide pop stars.
THE VOICE SOLO
Mavis Staples recorded her first solo album, Mavis Staples, for the famed Stax label in 1969.
After another Stax release, Only For the Lonely, in 1970, she released a soundtrack album, A Piece of the Action, on Curtis Mayfield's Curtom label. A 1984 album (also self-titled) preceded two albums under the direction of rock megastar Prince; 1989's Time Waits For No One, followed by 1993's The Voice, which People magazine named to its Top Ten Albums of 1993.
Her 1996 release Spirituals & Gospels: A Tribute to Mahalia Jackson recorded with keyboardist Lucky Peterson, is a moving song cycle honoring Jackson, a very close family friend and a huge influence on Mavis' life.