Birth name: Mavis Staples
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois
July 10, 1939 – Present
Years Active: 1950 – Present
With a career spanning more than seventy years and still going strong, Mavis Staples’ music and influence is as varied and impactful as her career is long. An inductee of the Blues, Gospel, and Rock and Roll halls of fame, Staples has recorded chart-topping hits and performed all over the world in a multitude of venues – churches, arenas, festivals, and even the White House. And her music has also led her to witness and be involved in the historic American civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century.
A native of Chicago, Staples’ family had relocated to the city from Mississippi during the Great Migration and she began singing at home as a young child in the 1940s. Before the age of ten Staples’ father, Roebuck “Pops” Staples, formed the family’s band, the Staple Singers. Comprised of Pops, Mavis, and her siblings, the group’s legacy is legendary and their music evolved over their decades-long career to include numerous styles and genres. Notably, even within the multi-vocalist group, Mavis was often the featured lead singer, or co-lead with her father, on most tunes. Initially recording and performing songs in the Southern spirituals tradition during the 1950s, after meeting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the early 1960s, the group’s music (and Mavis’ eventual solo work) began reflecting and addressing the era’s civil rights movement.
Staples’ 1969 self-titled debut solo album was co-produced by Steve Cropper of Booker T. & the MGs and Al Bell, president of the legendary Memphis-based record label, Stax. Since then she has produced fourteen studio albums on a variety of labels. In the 1980s and 90s she released two albums written and produced by Prince and issued on his Paisley Park label. In 1996, she collaborated with Blues musician Lucky Peterson on a Mahalia Jackson tribute album – Staples considered the revered Gospel singer to be a profound influence.
Since 2000, Staples’ career has soared even higher. Her last six albums have been issued by the independent label ANTI- to much critical acclaim and commercial success. Those albums have been produced by an esteemed list of collaborators, including musician Ry Cooder, fellow-Chicagoan and Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy, indie artist M. Ward, and, most recently, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ben Harper. 2010’s You Are Not Alone won the Grammy Award for Best Americana album. In addition to her renewed success with recordings, Staples has established a robust touring schedule and recently hosted a series of all-star shows where she performed in celebration of her 80th birthday.