Last month, Naoto and I went to the Harold Washington Library to see an interview with musical legend Mavis Staples. Greg Kot, one of the hosts of our favorite NPR show, Sound Opinions, wrote a book detailing Mavis’s life and her musical and civil rights history. The book, I’ll Take You There, was the One Book, One Chicago choice for 2017.I haven’t finished the book yet, but Sound Opinions devoted two episodes to Mavis this year (First episode, second episode) and she’s an incredible storyteller and has lead such a fascinating life. She has been singing professionally since 1950, starting out as a gospel singer with her family, The Staples Singers. Gradually, they branched into blues and pop. Even when Mavis was young, her voice was low and husky. She joked that people used to think she was a “fat old woman” until they saw her on stage, a young girl with a big voice.
Eventually, Mavis embarked on a solo career that’s been going strong since the 60s. Her father was close friends with Martin Luther King Junior and civil rights and social justice themes show up often in her music. When we saw her in concert last fall, she mentioned that she’s been fighting for social justice for sixty-eight years and she’s “not tired yet.” We’re big fans of 1960s protest music here at the Adami-Hasegawa house and Mavis has been a big part of that mix. Greg Kot stayed after their discussion to sign books, so I had him sign mine. (We lamented the fact that Bob Dylan wouldn’t come on stage and sing with Mavis during their tour, which was a huge disappointment for all of us when we saw them.) I’m looking forward to getting back into the book once I finish my book club book this week. If you love music, history, and the Civil Rights Movement, you can’t go wrong with I’ll Take You There.
Here’s President Obama talking about Mavis at the Kennedy Honors reception in 2016. He gets the last word today.