Songs By Mavis Staples - Curated By Friends
▶ ”Too Close”
About halfway through The Staple Singers’ “Too Close”, Mavis takes a solo that begins with a moan way too sexy for gospel music and way to powerful to be anything but gospel music. It gets me every time.
▶ “Sit Down Servant”
It’s very tough to pick my favorite song of Mavis or the Staple Singers, but I’m going to just land on “Sit Down Servant”, as it so exquisitely showcases their incredibly soulful and unique harmonies, Mavis’ truly astonishing voice, and Pops’ signature tremolo guitar. I had never heard anything like The Staples when I first heard them as a teenager with their album Why Am I Treated So Bad? Their commitment to Civil Rights, their powerful spiritual message of positivity has kept me close to Mavis and her family, in awe and gratitude and friendship, one of my greatest blessings.
▶ ”Respect Yourself”
One highlight from Mavis Staples and The Staple Singers long and noble career is “Respect Yourself.” In particular, the live version from the film, Wattstax. Pops takes the 1st verse... 'Take the sheet off your face, boy, it's a brand new day...'. Ozzie Davis and Ruby Dee watch from the audience. A feeling of dignity throughout. But the height of awareness and humor begins when Mavis takes the lead for the second verse. 'Keep talking bout the President won't stop air pollution/Put your hand over your mouth when you cough, that'll help the solution.' Real answers.
▶ ”I’m Coming Home”
I have lots and LOTS of favorites of Mavis’, but one that really stands out for me personally is “I’m Coming Home”. When I lived in Chicago I had a little room with no windows and I was sick with TB and I played this song over and over. I could feel it go through my whole body and I really do believe it healed me of TB. I could really feel Mavis’ voice healing me. I definitely ain’t lyin’!!!
▶ ”Since You Became A part of My Life”
One of my favorite Mavis Staple songs has to be “Since You Became A Part Of My Life”. Those lyrics in combination with her powerful voice behind it puts such a strong emphasis on how important love truly is.
▶ ”Uncloudy Day”
This one gets me every time. The simplicity of the harmonies & tremolo guitar just get under my skin in the best way. I can’t help but drop everything and just listen.
▶ ”Let’s Do It Again”
Too hard to choose one. I’ve always loved “Let’s Do It Again”, it’s such a gorgeous arrangement. On first listen that was the sweetest song about intimacy and love I’d ever heard. Still play it all the time. I also love the story of Curtis Mayfair reassuring Pops Staples about the lyrics.
▶ ”A House Is Not A Home”
This Bacharach/David tune...just kills me...and Mavis sings it with all of her magnificent heart and soul. It is perhaps my favorite of all her recordings from a sonic/soundscape perspective - it's so 3-D. We all know how difficult it can be to be alone and the loss of love...and how indeed a house is not a home...and this version always brings me some comfort in trying times. Thanks, Mavis.
▶ ”We’ll Get Over”
They sang it on Johnny Cash’s show. I like the message, I love the vocal arrangement, that cool little stop and start it does at the end of the chorus, breathtaking. Mavis levitates the whole affair, of course, and I just love Pops’ guitar playing.
▶ ”Freedom Highway”
”Freedom Highway” became one the the records that changed my life. Pulled from my father’s record collection, “Freedom Highway” transported me into a live church service with The Staple Singers with drums and bass! This did not sound like my grandmother’s Baptist church. This Gospel was so beautiful yet funky, joyful and blue.
You hear The Staple Singers evoke the Spirit, which moves the congregation and shakes the whole church house in audible waves. I felt the Spirit jump off the vinyl, out the speakers and shake me, just like Pop’s tremolo guitar!
As a young Mississippi musician seeking enlightenment, I cherished the message, history, and wisdom in the lyrics of “Freedom Highway”. Sadly, I was learning more about American history and the civil rights movement studying folk music; blues, gospel and protest songs, than I was from my Mississippi public school education. The Staple Singers message influenced me and helped me form my identity as a freedom rocker. I wanted to keep on marching and break free of history to help create a peaceful reality. The effect Pops’ song had on this young kid from Mississippi, decades later, proves the transcendental power and purpose of folk music.
Our family recorded Freedom Highway in 2000 and there was a lyric I wasn’t sure about. Our mother contacted Yvonne Staples who graciously sent us a lyric sheet. Yvonne later revealed this made the family laugh and wonder who these young kids in Mississippi were, recording “Freedom Highway”.
This song brought our family and the Staples family together time after time and we have felt the joy of marching with Mavis. We have to keep on marching. We won’t turn around! The Staple Singers are American heroes.
▶ ”The Weight”
Mavis takes this already incredible rendition of The Last Waltz classic to absolute perfection. The power and the passion of her voice blows me away me every time I listen, and that faint whisper of ‘Beautiful’ at the end is - in my opinion - one of live music’s most thrilling moments.
▶ ”Sit Down, Servant”
The first time I ever heard Mavis sing was with The Staple Singers. They were doing “Sit Down, Servant”. I loved the way they sang and clapped and her voice seemed to soar above the music they made together.
▶ ”If All I Was Was Black”
I love Mavis Staples. In fact I LOVE Mavis Staples. Even though I’ve only met her a few times, briefly, I almost feel like she’s part of the family. My dad, David Hood, played bass on “I’ll Take You There”. (She calls out to him “Little David” during the iconic bass breakdown. He also played on “Respect Yourself” and many other of the STAX era hits in the early 70’s.) I met her as kid and she called me “Little David”, which as an 8 year old I thought was pretty stellar. As a solo artist, I have really loved the records that she has made with Jeff Tweedy. Wonderful records that are true to her traditions without being retro or throwbacks. It’s telling that at nearly 80, she released such a great album this past year. “If All I Was Was Black” is a great song that, again is true to the traditions of the music she has been making since she was a young girl, while also being timely in 2018. Happy 80th Birthday to Mavis Staples, one of the greatest artists of the last century. Here’s to many many more.
▶ ”I’ll Take You There”
I’ve been privileged to see Mavis live many times. One thing she usually says to the audience is that she came not just to perform for them, but to bring them JOY! Joy is a simple, small three letter word, but how amazing it makes us feel! How amazing and powerful Mavis is to move an entire crowd of people to be joyful. A favorite song I love to hear her sing live is “I’ll take you there”. If there is a place where the soul of Mavis lives, it would be a place of pure joy, and I’m grateful that she’s invited us all to make ourselves at home there through her art. My father introduced me to the Staple Singers when I was on a family road trip as a child. Mavis speaks about Pops as if he is still with us. After losing my father a couple of years ago, I found such comfort in listening to Mavis sing, “You Are Not Alone”. Sometimes you just need someone to hold your hand through a sad or lonely time. It’s a gift Mavis has of hugging people with her voice...the richness...the warmth...the comfort.
WAR & TREATY
▶ ”Respect Yourself”
”Respect Yourself” is our favorite song from Mavis Staples and The Staple Singers. Its powerful stance causes us to look at ourselves before pointing the finger. Mavis Staples is the perfect example of grace, soul, elegance, beauty and equality in a world that is searching for truth.
▶ "You Are Not Alone"
I was in L.A. recording an album with the amazing rhythm section made up of Stephen Hodges and Jeff Turmes. After the session they told us they were headed up to record an album with Mavis. I was floored. The title track, “You Are Not Alone”, always gets me. The emotion and power in her voice is incredibly moving and the way she can deliver a message of positivity and love is unparalleled.
▶ "Top Of The Mountain”
It’s a really hard thing to choose a favorite Mavis/Staple Singers song, but I have to choose “Top Of The Mountain”. This song has been a mantra in my life for a long time, because it speaks of so much hope and persistence in adversity. It speaks of kindness and grace in poverty. Every line speaks a truth to live by, every note is believed. I can wax lyrical all day about her voice- her tone, it’s the very incarnation of credence, of testimony. Her exceptional compassion in her delivery and her connection to the song spoke all the way across the oceans to me.
▶ "Let's Do It Again"
My favorite Staple Singers jam is “Let's Do It Again”. The song is just so just funky and smooth. It makes me want to pick out my fro, day drink, and go roller skating. I'm a total sucker for Mavis singing the line, “do it, do it” over and over with the bass line and hand claps at the end.
COURTNEY MARIE ANDREWS
▶ “Eyes on the Prize”
Choosing my favorite Mavis Staples song feels impossible, so I’m going to choose the most recent song of hers that has become a constant ear-worm. This tune has so much grit and fierce honesty. Mavis’s version is perfect. She sings it like a true storyteller and you truly feel her emote the importance of this civil rights story.
▶ “Down In Mississippi”
This song feels like it comes out of pure earth, like each of the singers is part of the army that's waking up and walking behind Mavis, their queen. And then there's Mavis's voice, painting such a vivid picture, the whole thing sounds so soulful. I love the way she laughs in this song. It's empowering.