Today is the birthday of the legendary Mavis Staples. Born in Chicago in 1939, Mavis began her career singing with her family band in The Staple Singers. By the 1960s, their soulful addition to the music scene lent rhythm to the civil rights movement, and Mavis and her family were known for their soulful covers of pop hits with a social message (e.g. “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”, “For What it’s Worth”), as well as their own originals.
Mavis’s solo career really hit its stride in the past decade or so. in 2011, she won her first Grammy for Best Americana Album with You Are Not Alone, which was produced by Jeff Tweedy (who is also lead singer for Wilco). She is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Rolling Stone named her one of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. With good reason, too–have you heard her voice?
Mavis has a voice few modern stars possess. Britney? Please. Christina? Well, she coulda been a contender before she went off the rails. Gaga? A nice voice, has potential, but it’s so wrapped up in flash it’s hard to hear the substance. The only two pop stars that come to mind that might have the staying power of Mavis Staples are Beyoncé and Adele. I’m sure plenty would argue with that, but generally speaking, what you hear on the radio today lacks soul. At the risk of sounding like our parents (and grandparents), today’s pop is mostly junk.
Here’s Mavis with Wilco and Nick Lowe rehearsing their cover of “The Weight” at the Chicago Opera House in 2011. You can feel the heart coming out of their music and from her voice, and this is just backstage practice! Imagine hearing this in person: