Category: gospel

Throwback: Black History Month: Mavis Staples

The month is flying by: Today is February 11, the 11th day of Black History Month. And if you’ve been frequenting this site over the past month, I’ve been proudly featuring Black artists across a wide and eclectic array of genres and styles that I think can guide you towards further understanding of the Black experience. Of course, I hope that throughout this month you’ll remember — and appreciate the following:

Black culture is American culture — and Black music is American music.
America’s greatest and beloved contributions to the world are Black music styles — the blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and hip-hop.
Black art matters.
Black lives matter — all of them, all of the time.

JOVM mainstay Mavis Staples is a legend and an international treasure. We should love her and cherish her while she’s still here with us. She’s your soul grandma; she’s there for you when you need her most.

Throwback: Black History Month: Aretha Franklin

February 10 is the tenth day Black History Month. And if you’ve been frequenting this site over the past month, I’ve been proudly featuring Black artists across a wide and eclectic array of genres and styles that I think can guide you towards further understanding of the Black experience. Of course, I hope that throughout this month you’ll remember — and appreciate the following:

Black culture is American culture — and Black music is American music.
America’s greatest and beloved contributions to the world are Black music styles — the blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and hip-hop.
Black art matters.
Black lives matter — all of them, all of the time.

Tonight I thought it would be best to write about Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. You can Google any pertinent biographical information but I have a story about ‘retha that I’ve mentioned on several occasions: I landed in Amsterdam Schiphol Airport early in the morning one mid-January Sunday. After going through customs and retrieving my suitcase — a suitcase that I had gratefully borrowed from a girlfriend — I took the commuter train into Amsterdam Centraal Station to discover that I had a couple of hours before anything was open.

A smiling, blonde waitress waved me in a few minutes before they were about to open. They had an oldies radio station on the air, playing familiar and beloved hits from a variety of decades. Within about two hours of being in Amsterdam, I was reminded of how ubiquitous Black music and culture are, and how important the Queen of Soul is when this radio station started playing ‘retha — and the waitress happily sung along in slightly accented English. Now, whenever I hear ‘retha, I think of that Dutch waitress singing along.

Throwback: Black History Month: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Today is the first day of Black History Month. And throughout this month I’ll feature Black artists across a wide and eclectic array of genres and styles that I think can guide you towards understanding the Black experience. Throughout the month I hope that you’ll appreciate these facts:

Black culture is American culture — and Black music is American music.
America’s greatest and beloved contributions to the world are Black music styles — the blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and hip-hop.
Black art matters.
Black lives matter — all of them, all of the time.

The first person that came to mind was the amazing Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Tharpe was the first major gospel star, who wound up presaging the rise of the electric blues. She saw crossover success with blues, R&B and rock audiences throughout her life and that shouldn’t be surprising, She’s also been considered the godmother of rock ‘n’ roll — with her work influencing the likes of Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and others. She’s that important and yet, she doesn’t always get her fair share of credit. Check out some oof the live footage I’ve come across. You’ll be convinced.

New Audio: MAaJunga Spirit Orchestra’s Uplifting Anthem “Hold On”

Founded by Greg Musso, Jacques Daoud and Bruce Sherfield, MAajunga Spirit Orchestrais a Paris-based collective of like-minded artists, musicians and vocalists, who are deeply influenced by soul and gospel. Last year, the collective received international attention, when their single “Hold On” was featured in Remy Martin’s “Team Up For Excellence Campaign.”

Building upon the growing attention of “Hold On,” the members went into the studio to write and record their debut EP, Hold On.“The reaction to ‘Hold On’ was overwhelming.” producer and founding member Greg Musso says in press notes. “We decided to take this unique opportunity to continue spreading the music that we believe brings people together in spirit – mind, body, and soul.”

Produced by the collective’s Greg Musso and recorded live at Paris’ Midilive Studios (formerly known as Vogue Studios), known for seminal recordings by French artists like Françoise Hardy, Jacques Dutronc and Johnny Hallyday, the EP will further establish and expand upon the sound that won them international attention. Of course, the EP will feature, the attention grabbing, EP title track “Hold On,” a much needed bit of uplift and resolve centered around a gospel chorus, soulful led vocals and soaring keys. Sonically and thematically, the song manages to mesh the swaggering and hip-hop influenced gospel of Kirk Franklin with the soulful spirituals of Mavis Staples. Certainly, in these difficult and unusual times, the song’s positive message should resonate with all of us: we’re all gonna have to hold on — to hope, to each other, to each single day — until this passes. 

New Audio: The Legendary Mavis Staples Teams Up with Jeff Tweedy on a Much-Needed Anthemic Bit of Uplift

Throughout the course of this site’s almost ten year history, I’ve managed to spill quite a bit of virtual ink covering the legendary Chicago-born singer, actress, and civil rights activist Mavis Staples. Going into a deep dive into her career as a member of the Staple Singers and and a solo artist will be a bit gratuitous — but throughout her career, she has received commercial and critical success, as well as a proverbial boatload of accolades. Stapes has received eight Grammy Awards nominations with the Staple Singers, winning one — a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2004. She also received a Grammy nod for a collaboration with longtime friend Bob Dylan. And as a solo artist, she’s been nominated for five Grammys, winning two — Best Americana Album for 2010’s You Are Not Alone and a Best American Roots Performance for  2015’s ”See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.”

She also has been nominated for 11 Blues Music Awards, winning nine, including Album of the Year for 2004’s Have A Little Faith, which featured Song of the Year and album title track “Have A Little Faith.” She’s also won three Soul Blues Female Artist Awards — one in 2004 and back to back wins in 2017 and 2018. Staples was also inducted into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Staple Singers in 1999, was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2016 and inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2017.

The legendary Chicago-born singer, actress and civil rights activist turned 80 last year and with her achievements, it would be understandable if she had begun to slow down; however, over the past handful of years, Staples has been remarkably busy, releasing three critically applauded albums with Wilco‘s Jeff Tweedy and last year’s Ben Harper written and produced, We Get By.

Fittingly, Staples’ latest single is the hopeful and upbeat Jeff Tweedy-produced, “All In It Together,” which also features Tweedy contributing backing vocals and guitar. Centered around a shuffling, Chicago blues-like arrangement of twinkling keys, strummed guitar, a rousing hook and Staples’ imitable vocals, the track speaks directly to our current sociopolitical moment, while gently reminding the listener that at the end of the day, we’re all in this together. And that if we don’t get together at this most important moment in our collective history, then we’re all doomed. 

“The song speaks to what we’re going through now – everyone is in this together, whether you like it or not,” the legendary vocalist explains in press notes. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what race or sex you are, where you live…it can still touch you. It’s hit so many people in our country and around the world in such a horrible way and I just hope this song can bring a little light to the darkness. We will get through this but we’re going to have to do it together. If this song is able to bring any happiness or relief to anyone out there in even the smallest way, I wanted to make sure that I helped to do that.”

The song is available on all streaming services and Bandcamp. All proceeds from the song will be donated to My Block, My Hood, My City, a Chicago-based organization that ensures seniors will have access to the essentials needed to fight COVID-19. 

Earlier this year, I wrote about Charleston, SC-born, New York-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Kyle Lacy, and with the release of the Squeeze meets Daptone Records-like “Hangin On,” the up-and-coming Charleston-born, New York-based singer/songwriter and guitarist established a sound that draws from vintage rock and soul. Interestingly, Lacy’s latest single, the first official single off his forthcoming debut full-length debut Bad Days is the uplifting “Believe In Tomorrow” finds Lacy digging deep into the rock and soul sounds of his previous Dala Records single, but while finding his song leaning heavily towards Mavis Staples/The Staple Singers-like spirituals. Produced by Dala Records founder Billy Austik, best known for his work with Charles Bradley, Sharon Jones, Mark Ronson, Lacy’s latest single was written and recorded in just one day, while utilizing the old school, analog production approach the label has developed a reputation for.

Interestingly, the forthcoming full-length album reportedly finds Lacy delving deeply into soul and gospel — while affording the up-and-coming singer/songwriter much more freedom. “Now, I don’t have to think in terms of, ‘will people dance to this in a bar’, but I can actually say to myself, ‘would I listen to this song?’” Lacy says in press notes. Along  with that came a great deal of artistic and creative growth — in particular, the sessions that produced “Believe In Tomorrow” were the most formative for him. “It felt like we were all stepping out of the shadow of our fears, and collectively trying to tell a story of hope.”

 

 

 

 

Live Footage: Mavis Staples Performs “We Get By” on “CBS This Morning Saturday Sessions”

Over the past few years, I’ve written a bit about the legendary, Chicago-born singer, actress, and civil rights activist Mavis Staples and throughout a music career that has spanned over eight decades, several different genres and styles as a member of The Staple Singers and as a solo artist, Staples has had achieved commercial and critical success, as well as a proverbial boatload of accolades. Staples has been nominated for eight Grammy Awards with the Staples Singers, winning one — a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2004. She received a Grammy nod for a collaboration with Bob Dylan. And as a solo artist, she’s been nominated for five Grammys, winning two — Best Americana Album for 2010’s You Are Not Alone and a Best American Roots Performance for  2015’s”See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.” The legendary, Chicago-born vocalist has also been nominated for 11 Blues Music Awards, winning nine, including Album of the Year for 2004’s Have A Little Faith, which featured Song of the Year and album title track “Have A Little Faith.” She’s also won three Soul Blues Female Artist Awards — one in 2004 and back to back wins in 2017 and 2018. And let’s not forget that Mavis was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Staple Singers in 1999, was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2016 and inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2017. 

Staples turns 80 next month — July 10, 2019 — and while many artists at her age and with her achievements would have understandably begun to slow down, the legendary vocalist has managed to be wildly prolific, releasing three, critically applauded albums in her late 70s with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. Her latest album, the Ben Harper written and produced, We Get By was released by her longtime label home Anti- Records a few weeks ago, and as the legendary vocalist says in press notes, “When I first started reading the lyrics Ben wrote for me, I said to myself, ‘My God, he’s saying everything that needs to be said right now. But the songs were also true to my journey and the stories I’ve been singing all my life. There’s a spirituality and an honesty to Ben’s writing that took me back to church.”

“I come from a family of Mavis fans,” the multi-Grammy nominated and multi-Grammy winning Ben Harper explains in press notes, “so her music has been woven into the fabric of my life from the very start. When I got the call for this gig, it felt like my entire career, everything I’d ever written, had been pre-production for this.” 

The imitable Mavis Staples was recently on CBS This Morning’s Saturday Sessions where she and her backing band performed the uplifting album title track”We Get By.” Naturally, the track is what Staples has long specialized in: heartfelt, uplifting spirituals centered around lived-in experience — particularly, finding some way to survive in a difficult and uneasy world with your dignity, sanity and spiritual life intact. 

The late bluesman Roscoe Chenier was born in the tiny town of Notleyville, LA. And although his sharecropper family were extremely poor, Chenier grew up within a deeply musical family. Although he was related to zydeco legend Clifton Chewier and bluesman Morris “Big” Chenier, his father, Arthur “Bud” Chenier, a cajun accordionist, who was frequently accompanied by his first cousin, fiddler John Stevens (the father of Duke Stevens) was the Roscoe Chenier’s bigger influence; in fact, Bud Chenier and John Stevens were best known for playing at popular weekend house parties, where Roscoe would soak up the music.

In 1958, Roscoe Chenier was invited to join one of the region’s hottest traveling bands in the region — CD and the Blue Runners, which featured Lonesome Sundown on lead guitar and three of the Gradnier brothers on harmonica, drums and bass. Chenier played with CD and the Blue Runners until 1970, finding enough work to survive as a bluesman despite the popularity of the British Invasion acts of the 1960s. However, as tastes changed, Chenier like a lot of the great old bluesman discovered, it was difficult to eke out a living — especially when some gigs paid maybe $6 per man per night. And throughout the better part of the 70s, Chenier began a succession of jobs as a truck driver while picking up the occasional hired gun gig, playing in the backing bands of Good Rockin’ Thomas, Good Rockin’ Bob, his old bandmate Lonesome Sundown, Clarence Randle and Duke Stevens.

By 1980, Chenier was leading his own band and through a combination of reputation, luck and skill, he was able to recruit a number of talented musicians while desperately trying to remain as financial independent as possible, which by the late 90s became increasingly difficult. And yet, Chenier and his band managed to play several of Europe’s most prestigious festivals including Blues Estafette (in 1992, 1993, 1996, 1998 and 2001), North Sea Jazz Festival, toured across Europe several times and released a few albums before his death in February 2013 including 1998’s Roscoe Style and 2006’s Waiting For My Tomorrow. Roscoe Chenier’s last record, featured a haunting and folksy, acapella rendition of the old gospel standby “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” that immediately brings the early Delta Blues to mind — in particular, Son House, Lightnin’ Hopkins, early Muddy Waters and the like.

Interestingly, ElectroBluesSociety, a Dutch blues act, comprised of Japser Mortier (drums, bass) and Jan Mittendorp (guitar, production), who worked with Roscoe Grenier on several releases and several European tours decided to pay tribute to their late friend by adding a spectral and moody arrangement Chenier’s vocal that’s appropriately bluesy yet subtly modern, while retaining the timeless vibe of the original vocal take.

 

 

Live Footage: The Legendary Mavis Staples Performs “Build A Bridge” on “Colbert”

Now, more than enough ink has been spilled throughout Mavis Staples‘ eight decades in music, both as a member of the legendary The Staple Singers and as a solo artist, so I won’t delve into her biography or what other journalists have written about her because I think that for the sake of this post, it’s largely unnecessary; however, whether as a member of The Staple Singers or as a solo artist, Ms. Staples has released some of the most important, influential and beloved songs of the 60s and 70s — and in my book, the woman is a revered, national treasure. Of course, unsurprisingly, Staples has seen quite a bit of American history — including the bitter and shameful prejudice, racism, ugliness, injustice and violence of the Jim Crow-era South, the Civil Rights era, the hypocrisy and wishy washiness of White moderates and liberals, the election of Barack Obama — and yet . . . as the old adage says — the more things change, the more things remain the same. And while the same hate has always remained, rooted around race, gender, class, ethnicity and nationally, for the first time in a couple of  generations, the discussion of whether or not this country has lived up to is ideals have forced itself back into the national consciousness. 

Staples’ soon-to-be released album If All I Was Was Black continues her ongoing and critically applauded collaboration with singer/songwriter and producer Jeff Tweedy — and interestingly, the album marks the first time that Tweedy has composed an entire album worth of music for Staples. And as the story goes, when Tweedy and Staples convened to write the album’s material, the duo found themselves recognizing that this was a critical historical moment, in which they wanted and needed to say something about the current state of things here in the US and about the various fissures along race, politics, gender, gender identity and so on.  “We’re not loving one another the way we should,” the legendary vocalist says in press notes. “Some people are saying they want to make the world great again, but we never lost our greatness. We just strayed into division.” Tweedy adds, “I’ve always thought of art as a political statement in and of itself — that it was enough to be on the side of creation and not destruction. But there is something that feels complicit at this moment in time about not facing what is happening in this country head on.”

Naturally, some of the album’s material reportedly expresses anger and frustration — after all, how it could it not? In some way, Election Day last year felt like major gains made by dear friends in the Black, Latino, LGBQT and Muslim communities were wiped away. And yet, the material while still rooted around Staples’ legendary optimism, the material is balanced with a grounded realism that essentially says “well shit, there’s quite a bit of hard work, love and empathy that’s needed to make things right. Interestingly, when I heard album title track  “If All I Was Was Black,” I was immediately reminded of Syl Johnson‘s aching and bitter lament “Is It Because I’m Black.” in the sense that Staples’ latest single is an earnest and hopeful plea to the listener, imploring them to look into the heart and souls of every individual they come across, and to see them for their unique abilities; to render one’s skin color as relatively unimportant as the color of one’s eyes.

The album’s latest single “Build A Bridge” focuses on the growing sense of alienation, loneliness and misunderstanding of modern life — with Ms. Staples boldly suggesting that many of the world’s problems could be solved if people could allow themselves to be vulnerable and empathetic to the plight of others, so that they can see both the glorious differences in others and the universality of all.  For Ms. Staples sake, I hope we can all try before it’s too late. 

Recently Ms. Staples, Tweedy, their backing band and members of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert band performed the song on Late Show with Stephen Colbert.