Mavis Staples turned 70 this year, still singing the soul, gospel and Civil Rights anthems she started out performing with her family group, the Staple Singers, nearly 60 years ago.
And, she says, still surprised that it’s lasted as long as it has.
“I never thought that we would be where we are today,” says Staples, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and holder of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award with the group that was formed by her father, Roebuck “Pops” Staples. “We started singing in our living room, really, just to amuse ourselves. We weren’t singing for a career.
“Pop was singing with an all-male group and was disgusted ’cause the guys wouldn’t come to rehearsal and work hard. So one day he came home, got his little guitar out of the closet, called us children into the room and gave us the parts his brothers and sisters would sing down in Mississippi. It wasn’t supposed to be much more than that.”
Since Pops Staples’ death in 2000, Mavis has continued as a solo artist, backed by her sister Yvonne — who lives around the corner from her in their native Chicago. Brother Pervis Staples takes care of their father’s estate, while sister Cleotha suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
“The good thing is we’re all together ... so we’re just carrying on,” says Mavis, who plans to follow-up her 2007 album, “We’ll Never Turn Back,” next year. “People ask me, ‘Mavis, when are you gonna retire?’ For what? I don’t think about retiring. I’m gonna sing on. My friend Koko Taylor, she was the toughest lady out there; she sang to the end (at age 80, earlier this year). I’m gonna be like Koko.”
Mavis Staples performs a benefit for Avalon Housing Inc. at 7 p.m. Tuesday (Nov. 10) at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor. Tickets are $25-75. Call (734) 668-8463 or visit www.michtheater.org.
Send your thoughts and comments to