Mavis Staples at GPAC 

Mavis Staples will perform at the Germantown Performing Arts Center on Friday, February 13th. Luther Dickinson will open. Based on their involvement with the film Take Me to the River, there may well be a grey line between the opener and main event. And anywhere Mavis goes is an event. No other musical act can rival her historical importance. Bono and Geldoff, for all of the philanthropy, were never on the front lines of anything.

For her and the civil rights generation, music was "message music." Her father, Roebuck "Pops" Staples was among those who worked at Dockery Plantation: Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf. Mavis was born after her father migrated to Chicago. Pops struggled until his family and his primordial tremolo guitar struck a chord with audiences in the late 1950s. The Staple Singers were a popular acoustic gospel act for a decade before a 1965 show in Montgomery, where they met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. That experience inspired a round of protest songs that placed the Staples at the vanguard of the movement. They signed with Stax in 1968 but didn't have their first hit until 1971's "Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom Boom)."

click to enlarge Mavis Staples
  • Mavis Staples

But through all of the heavy history, Mavis has sung earthy gospel soul that is a perfect mix of unflinching honesty and uplifting empowerment. In her solo work, Mavis still keeps a devout focus on the struggle. Her song "With My Own Eyes" — from her solo album We'll Never Turn Back — is a first person testament of her experiences, one of which was a run-in with the Memphis police in 1964. Her recent turn in Take Me to the River reveals an artist on another plane. She is joyous and infectious. Why doesn't she have a Nobel Peace prize?

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