Lifelong Chicagoan Mavis Staples is an individual of many accomplishments and a vocalist with credentials in a variety of genres, but her late father, Roebuck “Pops” Staples would be mighty proud to know that his daughter is still winning honors as a blues singer, true to her roots. Living Blues magazine’s Critics’ Poll named her both Female Blues Artist of the Year and Most Outstanding Blues Singer in 2011, and in 2017 she was an inductee into the Blues Hall of Fame.
In 2006 she was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship, our country’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. She began singing with her family in 1950 at the age of 11, and by 1956 they had scored a hit with Uncloudy Day (Vee-Jay) while Mavis was still in high school. They recorded gospel numbers on a variety of labels, becoming one of the most popular and influential gospel groups in the country, and eventually their music became dominant in the soundtrack of the civil rights movement in America. A move to Stax Records in the late 1960s led to a string of gospel in uenced pop and soul hits.
One cannot overemphasize the importance of the Staples family to the history of Chicago, the civil rights movement, blues, gospel, and also popular culture. They received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys in 2005, and in 1999 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland for such contributions to music as their hits on the Stax label, Respect Yourself and their number one hit, I’ll Take You There.
Mavis, who in April lost her sister Yvonne, is the sole survivor of the original Staples Singers. For several years she has performed and recorded solo, as well as in collaboration with many other blues, gospel, pop, country, soul, and rock artists, including Bob Dylan with whom she toured in 2017. She partnered with guitarist singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy for three albums: in 2010, You Are Not Alone, won a Grammy Award for Best Americana album, the next, One True Vine, was a Grammy nom- inee, and their latest, If All I Was Was Black is an album of all original songs that re ect on a lifetime of battling for civil rights, of which Mavis has prophetically said, “We’re still in it.”