Mavis Staples talked about her life with moderator Shannon McNally at the Grammy Museum Mississippi.
Singer and civil rights activist Mavis Staples came to the Grammy Museum Mississippi Thursday to speak about her childhood, The Staples Singers, how she met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and her relationship with Bob Dylan.
Staples was born in Chicago, IL, in 1939 but calls the Mississippi Delta her home. Her father Roebuck Staples, who was also known as Pops, was born and raised on Dockery Farms in Dockery, where Delta Blues Legend Charlie Patton taught her father how to play guitar.
Staples took a trip to Dockery Farms while visiting Mississippi this week, and she told stories she remembered about her father and Patton being there and the experiences they had together.
“When I went to Dockery Farms, I just imagined Pops being there and the best thing about it is that he told us stories about it when we were kids,” Staples said.
Staples remembered her father telling her and her siblings about growing up on the plantation with other musicians such as Howlin’ Wolf.
She said she remembered Howlin’ Wolf being a big man, and that he used to scared her as a child.
“I remember being at this show and Pops took me on stage, Howlin’ Wolf started singing ‘That Spoon’ and he had this big spoon in his hand coming toward me, I just screamed and ran to my pops,” said Staples, bringing in laughter from the crowd.
Staples began her singing career after graduating high school. She initially began singing in churches until The Staples Singers was formed that was led by her father.
During the Civil Rights Movement, The Staples Singers became very close with Martin Luther King Jr.
Staples marched and singed beside King leading up to his assassination.
“I’m just so grateful to just have shaken his hand, to just have stood next to him and marched next to him,” Staples said.
Staples said when King was assassinated, she and her family were in Nashville preparing for show, but they decided to cancel after hearing of his death.
She mentioned her encounter with Elvis Presley once and her relationship with Bob Dylan who she toured with.
The Staples Singers and Dylan met in New York through Dylan’s manager. She said that Dylan told her he had been listening to The Staples Singers since he was 12 years old.
“That Bob Dylan can sing a song on any occasion,” Staples said.
After The Staples Singers heard Bob Dylan perform “Blowin’ in the Wind,” is when the Staples Singers decided to move away from singing strictly gospel music and going into other genres.
The Staples Singers was a well-known family group singing genres of gospel, blues, soul, and R&B.
Staples said, “We had a unique sound, and the sound Pops
gave us back then, people didn’t know what we were, they didn’t know if we sang country or gospel, we had such a different sound.”
The conversation closed with Staples and moderator Shannon McNally singing, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” followed by a question and answer session.
**This article was published in The Bolivar Commercial newspaper**