Mavis Staples has been a soul and gospel music legend for more than 50 years. Her work fronting the legendary Staples Singers defined the sound of politically-committed soul and influenced generations of musicians. As a solo artist in her own right she has helped to define much of what is righteous and soulful in American music.
With Livin’ On A High Note, being released February 19th (ATI/Anti/Epitaph), Mavis Staples has delivered the most joyful and uplifting record of her career. 12 original songs written exclusively for Mavis by some of the finest songwriters of our time including M .Ward, Ben Harper, Valerie June, Neko Case, tune-yards, Nick Cave, John Baptiste, Justin Vernon, Aloe Blacc and more.
At age 76, Mavis Staples shows no signs of slowing down and 2016 is slated to be one of her best years yet. On February 20th, HBO will debut Mavis! – the first feature length documentary on the gospel/soul music legend and civil rights icon. Mavis! – the documentary film, telling her life story.
The Staple Singers
MAVIS! is the first documentary on gospel/soul music legend and civil rights icon Mavis Staples and her family group, The Staple Singers. From the freedom songs of the ’60s and hits like “I’ll Take You There” in the ’70s, to funked-up collaborations with Prince and her recent albums with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Mavis has stayed true to her roots, kept her family close, and inspired millions along the way.
Featuring powerful live performances, rare archival footage, and conversations with friends and contemporaries including Bob Dylan, Prince, Bonnie Raitt, Levon Helm, Jeff Tweedy, Chuck D, and more, MAVIS! reveals the struggles, successes, and intimate stories of her journey. At 75, she’s making the most vital music of her career, winning Grammy awards, and reaching a new generation of fans. Her message of love and equality is needed now more than ever.
The first time I saw Mavis Staples, it had been raining all day in New York City. She was scheduled to perform that evening at an outdoor concert in Brooklyn, and I wondered if the show would be cancelled. But the rain cleared just before show time, and I sat on a soggy picnic blanket with friends and watched as this amazing woman and her band came on stage. Her voice reverberated through the trees as she sang, testified, preached, moaned, wailed and gave everything she had. The entire audience, young and old, was brought to its feet, and we all left the concert inspired and energized.
When I got home that night, I wanted to know everything I could about Mavis and her family, the Staple Singers. My search for a documentary about her life proved unsuccessful, and I couldn’t believe that no one had documented the lasting impact of the Staple Singers’ music. So I set out to make that film myself.
I delved deep into Mavis’s story, which spans seven decades and as many musical genres. I was blown away by the incredible voice that was belting out gospel hits at age 13. I was moved by her freedom songs of the ’60s, and by her stories of touring the segregated south with Martin Luther King. I was enamored with her amazing style and groove in the soul-filled ’70s. I discovered that she and Prince had spent years recording together, and that she’d had a youthful romance with Bob Dylan. What a history!
But as I started shooting the film and we began putting it together, I kept coming back to that night in the park, and how Mavis’s story isn’t about the past, it’s happening now. The fact that she is 75 years old and is still a vital and important artist, and not just out there performing as an oldies act, informed the way we made the film. I didn’t want the film to feel ‘historical’ even though we cover so much of Mavis’s history, and with it, the history of American music. So I felt it was important to include as much contemporary footage as possible, both of Mavis and the locations of her stories.
The biggest challenge was how to capture a career that spans over 60 years in one film, which is an impossible task. Inevitably some of Mavis’s story needed to be left for viewers to discover on their own. But what was important to me was to try to celebrate the importance of her legacy and share some of the inspiration, passion and love that she’s instilled in me through her music and her life.
Jessica Edwards / New York, March 2015
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 29TH @ 9:00pm ET on HBO!