Wishing an early “Happy Birthday to Mavis Staples!” Her birthday will be
July 10, 1939. Wow! In her 75th year of singing a rich and still fresh
combination of blues, soul, folksong anthems, and Gospel music, she
just put out another album in 2013!
Way to go, Mavis Staples!
Mavis’ newest album is titled, “One True Vine.” I learned more about
her personal journey through her life and also, a definite proposal
and romance I had no idea existed! You may not guess which famous
singer asked her “Pop’s” for permission to have her hand in marriage!
Mavis’ “Pop” put together the family singing act called, “The Staple
Singers” long ago, while she was at the tender, young age of 8 years
old! While the Peace Movement and Civil Rights Movement were the
ones who ‘took her there,’ the popular song, “I’ll Take You There,” was
what got the group on the top of music charts!
Listening to the lyrics, knowing it was originally a gospel song that
was intended for the listener to believe in going to a place called
“Heaven,” makes it even more spiritual and inspiring.
During the sixties, being on stage with Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King,
Jr. made her inspired and gave her so much encouragement for the
world. Her life was spent traveling around to big cities, performing and
feeling the wave of love and hope rising amongst African Americans.
On an interview with CBS Saturday Morning, (5/17/14), Mavis said that
being around MLK, Jr. was to feel ‘unbelievable joy.’ To be in his ‘presence’
brought her so much meaning to her life.
During this timely period in the United States, there was another
young ‘mover and shaker’ in the music industry. Mavis spent a lot of
time with that curly haired, good looking Bob Dylan.
There came a time, Mavis recounted that,
“Bobby told my Pops, ‘I want to marry Mavis.'”
“‘Don’t tell me, tell Mavis!'”
While grinning happily, telling the interviewer this love story,
he asked with some excitement,
“What did you say to Bob?”
She reflected, smiling and said,
Well, remember I was very young, so I told him, ‘Let’s wait awhile.'”
She went on to say (the essence of this moment being the real meaning
in her words, paraphrased here):
She wondered what changes her life would have had, how marrying Bob
Dylan would have impacted her life and then used a phrase that I will
tell you the interviewer had to ask her to repeat and explain.
Mavis wondered what it would have been like to make ‘chrome-crushers’
The words meant, children or babies with him. She was pondering this
and looking happy, still. She felt that she had been attractive, I
forget if she called herself a ‘fox’ or what, but he was definitely
someone she had love for and a huge crush on, too!
Mavis says that her life was spent ‘coming at it with her heart.’
When Mavis Staples won her first Grammy, she remembered that her
Pops had said not to worry about that but they were (basically)
singing for the Lord and “to reach people.” It was a great piece
of philosophy, not to worry about your awards in life, just what
actions you do and how it effects people.
At the 55th Grammy Award ceremony in February, 2013, Mavis Staples
won the Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award, looking very
stunning and vibrant. If you punch in her name and Grammy 2013, you
will see her the way she still looks. So beautiful inside and out!
She performed, by the way, in a tribute to Levon Helm, with the ‘likes’
of Elton John, Zac Brown Band and Mumford and Sons that fantastic
evening show to remember!
Mavis laughed, saying that she did, “Buy a stand for that Grammy,”
The upbeat tone in her speaking and singing voice wins you over,
despite her vocal range not being as wide as I am sure it was in her
‘heyday!’ She has two songs that were very special to me.
I have sometimes, like many people do, worried about my appearance
and this song, “I Like the Things About Me,” including her comments
in the song disparaging her hair and her lips. She uses this verse,
“I like the things about me, that I once despised…”
“There was a time I wished my hair was fine…”
“There was a time I wished my lips were thin…”
In the end, the message was similar to today’s artist, Lady Gaga’s.
Mavis’ lifetime of having racial hurdles to overcome, make her
simple songs even more powerful. And timeless…
(The essence of the lyrics was she came to the point in her life,
when she could accept ‘the me that I am.’)
The lively and pretty song, “Freedom’s Highway,” still has a world
wide application. As she mentioned the children (girls who were
kidnapped in Nigeria) and ‘everywhere looking at America to see what
we will do.’
“March each and every day,
Made up my mind and won’t turn around,
Made up my mind and won’t turn around.
There is just one thing,
I can’t understand, my friend.
Why some folk think freedom
Was not designed for all men,
Yes, I think I voted for the right man,
Said we would overcome.”
She repeated that ‘the whole world is wondering why America
is not stepping in to help those girls.’
Mavis Staples’ songs to look up on Youtube and listen to are:
“You Are Not Alone,” (2010)
“Eyes on the Prize,” (2007)
“One True Vine” (2013).
I was uplifted by Mavis’ energy and her loving nature shown in the
interview this Saturday morning. I needed only to see her face, to
remember that, not too long ago, Grammy Awards Show.
Where I had really listened to Mavis Staples’ singing and messages.
Adding to everyone’s loving voices raised in tribute to Levon Helm.
(If you were a fan of “The Band,” you were listening to his drumming
and percussion skills.)
Now go out, sing dance and march to the music!