Mavis Staples Brings Soul and Good Vibrations to the Center
This post is by Lisa Driscoll, a Junior Vocal Performance and Broadcast Journalism double major. You can read more of her writing on her blog.
It seemed for a moment as if everyone was holding their breath. Several minutes of silence passed until a woman slowly walked out onto the stage with her cane tapping next to her and a big smile on her face. “We’ve come this evening to bring you joy, happiness and positive vibrations,” she said.
Staples’ musical journey started 63 years ago, launching her career with the family group The Staple Sisters. The music of the Staple Sisters and her solo music have shaped American culture and had particular impact during the Civil Rights Movement.
The legendary gospel artist Mavis Staples did just that and more in an evening to celebrate monumental strides of the past and to look for more victories in the future. Her performance was part of The National Civil War Project, in which the Clarice Smith Center is exploring issues of the Civil War and civil rights in a modern-day context.
The night was filled with classic soul anthems like “Respect Yourself” along with gospel music from her new album One True Vine, which was released this June. These newer pieces like “Holy Ghost” are meant to instigate a rediscovery of traditional American music and a call to grace for inspiration.
Her sister Yvonne Staples, Donny Gerrard and Vicki Randle did an exquisite job of backing Staples’ voice with tight harmonies. Even when Staples took a break from singing, drummer Stephen Hodges, guitarist Rick Holmstrom and bassist/guitarist Jeff Turmes entertained us with their dueling guitar and bass combination.
Staples’ musical journey started 63 years ago, launching her career with the family group The Staple Sisters. The music of the Staple Sisters and her solo music have shaped American culture and had particular impact during the Civil Rights Movement. Staples’ father Roebuck “Pops,” a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, wrote the song “Freedom Highway” in 1962 for the march from Salem to Montgomery. It is this same highway that Staples encourages young adults to continue to travel in the 21st century, as part of “the army of love.”
Her warm personality and stories allowed us to get to know the person behind the movement and the music. Everything from her low, raspy voice to jokes about her knee replacement (“That devil was chewing on my knee!”) made her performance personal and engaging.
Most importantly, the performance was a window into the Civil Rights Movement— a movement that is still happening today. It didn’t take long for the audience to join in a chorus of “I’ll take you there!” when Staples spoke of looking forward.
“I won’t turn around… I’ve come too far,” she said.