We’ve been singing along to gospel-and-soul legend Mavis Staples’ music for the past six decades. Ever since she made her debut in 1950 as the primary lead singer of her family’s group, The Staple Singer, the Chicago native’s music has been the soundtrack to our lives. “I’ll Take You There” is still a staple (pun intended) at most family gatherings.
Fourteen albums and many accolades later (including being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999), Staples shared a few pearls of wisdom she has learned over the years before her performance at the National Folk Festival in Greensboro, North Carolina this weekend.
The biggest risk I’ve taken was to record a secular album at the height of my family’s (The Staple Singers) career. All my life I had sung gospel songs. This was a major no-no with the church. I took this risk because I wanted to sing about my life as a young woman in love, married and divorced. Fortunately for me, the DJs still heard the God in me. They played “A House Is Not a Home” on their gospel shows, and then I could relax again.
One life lesson to remember is: Believe you can be or do anything your heart desires. All things are possible if you believe. Stay positive. “I can’t” and “almost” are two words I never use. Above all, be kind and do unto others as you would have them do to you.
I will never regret: Not going to college. I’ve traveled the world for 65 years, and through my travels, I feel I’ve been to college. Traveling has given me the opportunity to learn a lifetime of lessons. I’ve been blessed to learn culture, languages, and songs in different languages. Two great colleges have honored me with doctorate degrees: Berklee College of Music in Boston, and Columbia College in Chicago. I have two caps and two gowns, and so I guess I graduated after all.
The moment I felt I had made it was when: I would hear my songs on the radio, no matter how many times I changed the station—that made me a happy soul. Actually, there have been many times that have given me that feeling. When we were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, when we received a Lifetime Achievement Award, being one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s soldiers, the list goes on and on.
My greatest joy is: Having a lifetime career with my father, Pops Staples, and my sisters Cleedie and Yvonne. It’s the best life one could have imagined. Every day on the road was a fun day, and every concert was different. I lived to see the fans smile and enjoy our songs.
An everyday mantra by: “No weapon formed against me shall prosper.”
Mavis Staples performs at the National Folk Festival on September 12.