I’ll Take You There
There are few artists more beloved by the entire music community than gospel legend Mavis Staples. Mavis was celebrated a few months back in Chicago with a tribute concert for her 75th birthday at Auditorium Theatre with the likes of Arcade Fire, Greg Allman, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Aaron Neville, and more showing up to celebrate her birthday and legacy. There is also a documentary debuting at SXSW this year titled Mavis!, celebrating the joyful singer’s legacy and spirit. Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, who has produced her last two albums, even went as far as calling Mavis an “angel” when I saw him last summer, saying “if an angel’s purpose in life is to make other’s feel better, that’s exactly what Mavis is.” I got around to reading Chicago Tribune critic and Sound Opinion’s host Greg Kot’s new biography I’ll Take You There about Mavis, the Staples Singers, and her family’s legacy this past month, and now understand why Mavis and her family have so much adoration from so many sides of the music community.
For those unfamiliar, the Staple Singers started as a gospel family band in the late 1940’ led by their caring father Roebuck “Pops” Staples with his children Cleotha, Yvonne, Pervis, and Mavis. The family grew up on the south side of Chicago but toured the country, primarily the racially torn South, for 15 years as a family in a van. The family is known not just for producing inspiring gospel hits, but for Pops signature tremolo blues guitar sound, their incredible harmonies, bridging the gospel world into soul, blues, and folk, and playing a major part in the Civil Rights movement. To read about all the experiences this humble family went through is truly awe-inspiring, from nearly getting lynched in Mississippi by police, marching alongside MLK for freedom, to making all-time classics in legendary studios like Stax, Paisley Park, and Muscle Shoals, the Staples carved out a path unlike any other, which is why you’ll find them in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Even if you don’t have a particular interest in the Staple Singers, Civil Rights, or gospel music, the Staples were at the crossroads of so many important events and crossed paths with so many other legends this makes for a great read regardless. The Staples grew up on the south side of Chicago as friends with soul crooner Sam Cooke and gospel queen Mahalia Jackson. Mavis was proposed to by Bob Dylan (which she still today regrets saying no to). Prince loved the Staples and revamped Mavis’s career in the 80’s. Stevie Wonder had dinner every night with their mother Oceola while the family was on the road, consoling her after the tragic suicide of their youngest daughter Cynthia. The Rolling Stones and Talking Heads borrowed elements of their music, and Curtis Mayfield, Ry Cooder, Prince, and Jeff Tweedy all loved them so much they produce the group or Mavis’s music. The biggest relationship for the band was Pops Staples’ close relationship with Martin Luther King Jr., providing some interesting insight on the iconic figure.
What stands out above all else in I’ll Take You There is the family’s unbreakable bond, specifically shown in Pop’s protective and unbreakable love for his children. Pop’s last album, Don’t Lose This, was completed by Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy and released last week, and actually serves as a nice reminder of what made his musical imprint so unique, and how soulful and heartfelt the Staples’ music was. So dig into the Staples music through Spotify or whatever your preferred music player is, and do read I’ll Take You There, which paints a vivid picture of this incredible family.