Best known as the lead vocalist of the Staple Singers, a family soul-gospel ensemble that flourished from the 1950s through the 1970s and beyond, Mavis Staples has also released a series of albums as a solo artist. Her voice, not a gospel power-house, was instantly compelling with its deep-like-a-river quality of moral conviction. Over her long career, Staples won other musicians, including Bob Dylan and Prince as admirers, and her solo work, which had never quite found its course among the shifting winds of musical fashion, won new recognition with the release of her 2004 album,Have a Little Faith.In 2005 Staples was set to accept a Grammy award for lifetime achievement on behalf of the Staple Singers, of whom she was the last surviving original member.
Mavis Staples was born in Chicago, Illinois, on July 10, 1939 (or, according to some sources, 1940). Her father, Roebuck “Pops” Staples, had grown up on Mississippi’s Dockery Plantation, a key site in the development of the blues, and had learned to play the guitar from the great early bluesman Charley Patton. After he moved north to Chicago in 1936 he began to organize gospel quartets after finishing work at a meatpacking plant, and it was gospel that Mavis Staples heard at home. “He used to play records by the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Soul Sisters, the Blind Boys of Mississippi as well as the Blind Boys of Alabama, but after I heard [gospel great] Mahalia [Jackson] sing ‘Move On Up a Little Higher,’ I had to play her music every day,” Staples told Greg Quill of theToronto Star.