Mavis Staples to perform at Ridgefield Jazz, Funk and Blues Weekend
Mavis Staples is a member of both the Blues and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; honors that were bestowed to her for an incredible 60-plus years in music.
A Grammy winner and civil rights icon, Staples began her career singing with her family, scoring a hit with “Uncloudy Day” in 1956 as a member of the Staple Sisters. Led by the Staples patriarch Roebuck “Pops” Staples on guitar, the group became renowned gospel singers throughout the U.S.
She released her first of 14 solo albums in 1969, and over the years, Staples has collaborated with everyone from Prince to Bob Dylan to Hozier.
Her latest album, “We Get By,” was released this summer and has earned critical acclaim throughout the music industry.
On Sept. 7, Staples will perform at the Ridgefield Playhouse as part of the second annual Ridgefield Jazz, Funk and Blues Weekend.
Keith Loria: You’ll be heading to the Ridgefield Playhouse soon. Please preview what fans can expect on the night?
Mavis Staples: I like to tell folks they are in for some joy, some inspiration and some positive vibrations. We have been playing some songs from our new CD, songs that were written by Ben Harper, but we also take a little walk down memory lane as well. We’ll have big fun.
KL: As someone who has performed for most of your life, what is it that keeps you interested and invested in this career? Why do you still love to perform?
MS: Singing and performing is just what I love to do. I’m happiest when I’m singing. I’m just grateful that I have so many fans that still want to come see our show. But I feel like my voice is my gift and using it is what God put me here for. So, I am going to keep on keeping on.
KL: With your family’s history of music, was it always a given you would take on this career? Why was this something you wanted to do?
MS: When I finished high school, I thought I would go to college and try to become a nurse. But Pops wanted us to go on the road full time — up to that point we would tour in the summer or on the weekend and I would miss school Friday or Monday or both. I told Pops I wanted to be a nurse. But he told me, “Mavis, you’re already a nurse. You make people feel good when you sing. They feel better because of our music.” And he had me there. So I didn’t get to college.
KL: You are known for more than just your music. You are a big civil rights advocate and overall fight for good. How have you been able to use your career to help you with those measures?
MS: Pops always said: “If you want to write for The Staple Singers, read the headlines.” So that kept us open to all kinds of different perspectives from different people. And we would sing the songs to try and make a difference. It’s just too much, what’s been going on nowadays, to not try to sing about it, and try to inspire people to fix it. And I’m a loving person and I think that love does come through. It’s time for more love.
KL: You recently were named as an honoree at this year’s Americana Association. What does this, and other recognitions mean to you?
MS: Pops used to tell us all we shouldn’t worry about trophies and award shows; he’d tell us that we were singing for our just rewards, and that it was going to come to us. But after I won my first Grammy, it felt great! My NEA Award, Kennedy Center Honor and the Blues Hall of Fame, those were all special as well. It was also special to get an award from Americans for the Arts, it’s my little balloon dog, I have him in my shelf. And the Americana folks gave me a free speech award a few years back, too. So I am looking forward to going back to Nashville to see my friends. I don’t mind saying I hope I win, but I am up against some strong competition. It will be cool if Brandi or Rhiannon or Kacey beats me for that one.
KL: You’ve had some amazing collaborations throughout your career and always seem to be working with someone new. What do you look for in a collaborator?
MS: I’ve been lucky in that the Lord has sent me geniuses to work with, true genius — Prince and Ry Cooder, Jeff Tweedy and Curtis Mayfield. And Ben Harper, too, he is a beautiful spirit. But I try not to compare them. They all have their own way of working, and communicating with me to get to what they are hearing. But I have really enjoyed myself working with these young artists today — on records and at shows. I’m flattered that these young folk know who I am and that they want to work with me and for me to be on their songs. So, I want to keep working with those artists, they help me stay young.