After the Second World War, a couple moved from Mississippi to Chicago, where they put together a family gospel-singing act and began singing in churches. As the ‘50s turned into the ‘60s, they became active in the Civil Rights Movement and formed a friendship with Martin Luther King Jr. Their gospel music took on a distinctly political character, and then later in the decade, it became more secular. As one of their daughters grew up, she developed an unusually rich voice and began to take center stage in the group. Bob Dylan asked her to marry him, but she prefered to stay friends. They are friends to this day.
Eventually the family signed to Stax, the fabled Memphis soul label, and began releasing hit records that were not explicitly religious or political but were still full of the uplifting sound of the gospel choir and the righteous struggle of the Civil Rights Movement.
This sounds like the plot of a movie that tries too hard to stuff in all the important points of African-American music of the postwar era, but in fact it’s the story of a real-life family: the Staples, who performed as the Staple Singers and recorded timeless hits such as “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There.” One talented daughter of that group is Mavis Staples.
Mavis’s solo career has not reached the same commercial heights as the family band, but in recent years she’s been gaining attention. She signed to Anti-, the record label for prestigious artists such as Tom Waits, Neko Case, and Nick Cave. This year she released a new album, You Are Not Alone, produced by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco.
Charlie Musselwhite opens.
MAVIS STAPLES: Belly Up, Thursday, November 4, 7:45 p.m. 858-481-8140. $30 advance; $32 day of show.