Tag: The Staple Singers

Throwback: Happy 81st Birthday Mavis Staples!

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 CenterHonoree in 2016 and inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2017.

Today is the legendary vocalist’s 81st birthday and I personally wanted to wish the national treasure a very Happy Birthday. May there be at least another 80 more!

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. 

Live Footage: Mavis Staples Performs “Build A Bridge” on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”

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 and her work, because for 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. 

Unsurprisingly, Staples has seen quite a bit of the past century of American history — including the embittering and dehumanizing prejudice, racism, injustice and violence of the Jim Crow-era South, the Civil Rights era, the hypocrisy and wishy washiness of White moderates, liberals and the Far Left, the elections of Barack Obama and Donald Trump — 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, gender expression, sexuality, class, ethnicity and nationality, for the first time in a couple of generations, the discussion of whether or not this country has lived up to its ideals, how we get there — hell, if we’re even willing to sacrifice to get there, have all been forced back into the national consciousness on a insistent basis.  

Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site for a while, you’d know that Staples’ latest effort If All I Was Was Black, which was released last November continued her ongoing and critically applauded collaboration with renowned singer/songwriter and producer Jeff Tweedy. And interestingly, the album marked the first time that Tweedy has composed an entire album worth of music specifically for Staples. As the story goes, when Tweedy and Staples convened to write new material, the duo recognized that they were in the middle of a critical, historical moment — and that they felt it necessary to address the current sociopolitical state of things both here in the States and elsewhere. “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.”

Of course, some of the album’s material expresses anger and frustration — after all, how could it not? In some way, Donald Trump’s election back in 2016 felt like the major gains made by Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, Asians and the LGBQT communities were going to be completely wiped away. And yet, while rooted around Staples’ legendary and lifelong optimism that optimism is balanced by a healthy pragmatism in which the soul legend seems to say “well shit, there’s quite a bit of hard work, love and empathy that’s needed to get 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.

Mavis and her backing band have been doing the talk show circuit to promote If All I Was Was Black and it included a Martin Luther King Day appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! where they appropriately performed “Build a Bridge.

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. 

More than enough ink has been spilled through Mavis Staples‘ eight decades music, both as a member of The Staple Singers and with her solo career, and a result, it would make it delving into her biography or relating what countless other journalists have written and said about her a bit unnecessary; however, with a music career that long, Staples has seen quite of bit of American history — including the bitter prejudice, racism, ugliness and violence of the Jim Crow-era South, the hypocrisy an wishy washines of White liberals, the Civil Rights era, the election of this country’s first Black president, Barack Obama — and yet . . . as the old adage says — the more things change, the more things remain the same, and the same racial and class-based animus has sadly (but unsurprisingly) has returned to the forefront of national consciousness.

Staples’ latest effort If All I Was Was Black is slated for an November 17, 2017 release through Anti- Records, and the effort continues her ongoing and critically applauded collaboration with singer/songwriter and producer Jeff Tweedy; however, the album manages to mark the first time that Tweedy has composed an entire album worth of music for the legendary vocalist. Unsurprisingly, as Tweedy and Staples reconvened to write the material, which would eventually comprise If All I Was Was Black, the duo found themselves completely in sync in wanting (and needing) to say something about the current state of the country and about the various fissures that have been re-exposed. “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.”

And while lyrically, some portion of the album’s material reportedly expresses anger and frustration — after all, how it could not? But overall, the material also reportedly finds the legendary vocalist balancing her prototypical optimism with a realistic sensibility — that there’s quite of hard work and love that’s needed to truly 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. And by doing so, perhaps every one’s perspective of people they don’t understand will be shifted, as they may actually see the universality of the individual. For Ms. Staples sake, I hope we can all try before it’s too late.

 

 

A great deal of the popular music that we know and love can trace its origins to the church and to gospel music in some way or another. Artists such as Aretha FranklinAl GreenDionne WarwickCissy Houston and her daughter Whitney HoustonGladys Knight, Teddy RileyMary J. BligeR. KellyThe Staple Singers and an incredibly lengthy list of others can claim that their start when they sang gospel and spirituals at their local church. Nor should it be surprising to recognize that many of the Mississippi Delta bluesman, who had influenced the sound and aesthetic of rock ‘n’ roll had either played in a church, were inspired by gospel and spirituals — or were generally just intimately familiar with the music. Now while gospel and spirituals haven’t seen a whole lot of love across secular media outlets or the blogosphere, there have been a few gospel acts that have seen some level of crossover/secular attention — in particular Kirk Franklin, who landed a hit with 1997’s “Stomp,” Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens, who received attention with 2014’s impressive Cold World and  Joshua Nelson, “The Prince of Kosher Gospel,” an artist who ties together Jewish Temple songs with gospel in a way that’s incredibly soulful — and interestingly enough makes a lot of sense. Of course while each of those artists have a unique take on gospel and spirituals, there’s one thing they have in common — they believe in music with a powerfully uplifting message that will move audiences, whether you’re secular or deeply religious.

Now, if you had been frequenting this site over the past couple of years, you may recall that I wrote about The Jones Family Singers. Comprised of patriarch, Bishop Fred Jones, Sr. (vocals), his daughters Ernestine (vocals), Sabrina (vocals), Velma (vocals), ‘Trelle (vocals), his sons Kenny (bass) and Fred, Jr. (guitar, piano), along with Matthew Hudlin (drums), Ezra Bryant (guitar) and Duane Herbert (percussion) have seen a rapidly growing national and international profile with the release of  Alan Berg’s documentary The Jones Family Will Make a Way, which features live footage of their New York City area debut at Lincoln Center, as well as tour stops in Germany, The Netherlands and festival stops in NewportWinnipegLos AngelesMonterey and others — thanks in part to a sound that while effortlessly meshing rock, the blues and gospel, manages to nod at the legendary Staple Family Singers.

Recently, renowned producer and guitarist Adrian Quesada invited The Jones Family Singers to take part in his “Live at Level One” cover series and their contribution to the series is a soulful cover of Johnny Cash‘s “All God Children’s Ain’t Free,” a single that manages to be as socially and politically necessary as ever, as the song reminds the listener that there’s much urgent work to be done to achieve the American ideals of freedom, justice and opportunity for all. As Bishop Fred Jones, Sr. explains of their cover in press notes, “No matter how high and mighty you think you are, never forget the people beneath you. Everyone needs an opportunity right now, and this song is a necessary statement for us to make at this crucial time in our nation’s history.”

The multi-generational family band will be touring across the Northeast next week as part of a series of shows to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Check out tour dates below.

Tour Dates:

Sat, Jan 14 – Hampton, VA @ The American Theatre
Sun & Mon, Jan 15/16 – Philadelphia, PA @ Kimmel Center (SEI Innovation Studio)
Thu, Jan 19 – Hanover, NH @ Hopkins Center
Fri, Jan 20 – Portland, ME @ Portland Ovations

More than enough ink has been spilled throughout the lengthy and influential careers of The Staple Singers and Mavis Staples, and as a result it would make it unnecessary to delve deeply into her biography — or to repeat what countless others have written and said about her. What I will add is that over the past couple of years the legendary soul vocalist has been remarkably prolific — last year saw the release of the critically acclaimed Good Fortune EP, which was produced by renowned soul artist Son Little. And perhaps much more momentous, the posthumous release of Pops Staples‘ last recorded effort Don’t Lose This, an effort that required the assistance of Wilco‘s Jeff Tweedy, who has been a frequent collaborator over the past few days, as well as a number of guest musicians to complete the album as her father intended.

February 19 marks the release of Mavis Staples’ latest album Livin’ On A High Note and the album will reportedly reference and draw from her 60+ year musical career influencing and defining soul, folk, pop, R&B, blues rock and even hip-hop. But the most interesting thing about the new album is that Mavis recruited a number of diverse and critically applauded contemporary artists to write songs on the album including Neko Case, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, Nick Cave, Ben Harper, tUnE yArDs, Aloe Blacc, Benjamin Booker, The Head and the Heart and M. Ward — with Ward also taking up production duties. As the legendary soul singer explained in press notes “I’ve been singing my freedom songs and I wanted to stretch out and sing some songs that were new. I told the writers I was looking for some joyful songs. I want to leave something to lift people up; I’m so busy making people cry, not from sadness, but I’m always telling a part of history that brought us down and I’m trying to bring us back up. These songwriters gave me a challenge. They gave me that feeling of, ‘Hey, I can hang! I can still do this!’ There’s a variety, and it makes me feel refreshed and brand new. Just like Benjamin Booker wrote on the opening track, ‘I got friends and I got love around me, I got people, the people who love me.’ I’m living on a high note, I’m above the clouds. I’m just so grateful. I must be the happiest old girl in the world. Yes, indeed.”

 

 

The album’s latest single  “High Note” discusses something that is easier said than done for most us — and it’s certainly the case for me: taking the higher road despite how hurt, betrayed and disgusted you might be over a particular person or a particular situation, and doing so with grace and dignity. At the same time, the song’s narrator points out that taking the higher road requires wisdom and experience — sometimes embittering and hurtful ones to know when and how to do so. Sonically, the song pairs a loose and bluesy guitar line with Mavis’ legendary vocals in a song that radiates a comforting and soulful warmth that says “hey, I’ve been there, too.”