Mavis Staples

Civil War to Civil Rights IconMavis Staples

Friday, November 8, 2013 . 8PM
Mavis Staples
Mavis Staples photo by Chris Strong

Event Attributes

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Estimated Length: 
1 hour and 20 minutes with no intermission
Program Notes: 

Rhythm and blues and gospel legend Mavis Staples brings her trailblazing style and distinctive smoldering voice to the Center for the first time.

Staples' career began in the 1950s when her family's iconic gospel-folk group, The Staple Singers, became a popular household name with hits such as "I'll Take You There" and "Respect Yourself". Their spiritual and political sound became voices of the Civil Rights movement alongside Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Decades later, Staples' notable collaborations as a solo artist include Ray Charles, Natalie Merchant, Bob Dylan, Prince and Wilco.

About her songs she says, "They’re about the world today—poverty, jobs, welfare, all of that—and making it feel better through these songs." Staples has been said to have “an almost superhuman ability to implant the pure power of passion and emotion” (Rolling Stone Magazine).

Civil War to Civil Rights

This event is part of our Civil War to Civil Rights: The Well-Being of a Nation series.

Preview by DCist

“I won’t stop. As long as I can sing and have my voice I will keep on,” Staples declared, almost in defiance of her 74 years. “I just had my knee replaced and my other knee is being done in December, so I will be like the bionic woman, just going and going.”

– SRIRAM GOPAL, DCist, November 7, 2013

Review of One True Vine on NPR Music's First Listen

One True Vine as a whole is a more darkly solemn and deliberately paced record...But even at its slowest, in the tentative search for salvation in its first half, One True Vine doesn't drag to a slog so much as radiate reverence, while summoning a slow burn well-suited to Staples' rich, dusky voice. Then, as the album blooms into something more celebratory — as Staples begins to find salvation and comfort — the joy in One True Vine peeks through like slivers of sunshine.

– STEPHEN THOMPSON, NPR Music First Listen, June 16, 2013

Interview on PBS NewsHour

Pops called us and told us, "Listen, y'all, this man Martin is here, Martin Luther King, and I want to go to his church. He has a church, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, and would you all like to go?" We said, "Yes, pops. We want to go." We all went to Dr. King's church that Sunday morning for an 11:00 service.

We go back to the hotel. Pops called us again. "Listen, you all, I really like this man's message. And I think if he can preach it, we can sing it."

– JEFFREY BROWN, PBS NewsHour, August 22, 2007

Review of One True Vine by The Washington Post

Throughout the album, though, [producer Jeff] Tweedy’s best move was to never crowd the centerpiece, Staples’s heavy vocals, which ground the songs with genuine emotion.

– JEDD FERRIS, The Washington Post, November 7, 2013

Review by DC Metro The Theater Arts

In concert at the Kay Theatre of the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on November 8, 2013, Mavis Staples rocked the house as she soulfully led us down freedom’s highway in a powerful and sacred testament of song.

– RAMONA HARPER, DC Metro Theater Arts, November 10, 2013

Review by The Diamondback

Staples, who’s been belting out gospel songs for most of her 74 years, was in fine form Friday — cracking jokes between songs, telling stories about performing at Martin Luther King Jr. rallies and swaying behind her microphone stand when she wasn’t singing. It didn’t matter that she needed a cane to stand up from her onstage chair or that her voice sounded hoarse and strained at times.

In the presence of such a legend, the tendency to scrutinize and critique slowly dissolved.

– DEAN ESSNER, The Diamondback, November 12, 2013