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Mavis Staples is living, breathing history. She is an alchemist of American music, having continuously crossed genre lines like no musician since Ray Charles. Weaving herself into the very fabric of gospel, soul, folk, pop, R&B, blues, rock, and hip hop over the last 60 years, this iconic singer has seen and sung through so many changes, always rising up to meet every road.
Now in her seventh decade, with the release of her new album Livin’ on a High Note (ANTI-), she is only gaining momentum. Produced by M. Ward with songs by Neko Case, Justin Vernon, Nick Cave, Ben Harper, Tune-Yards, Aloe Blacc and others, the album serves as a summation and furtherance of her illustrious career. Refusing to fade away, she continues to tour incessantly, remaining as vital, engaged, and true as always. There is no persona; she is, simply and untouchably, Mavis—and Livin’ on a High Note is the symphony of her life.
“I think about this album as a new beginning in my career,” says Mavis. “I’m living on a high note, I’m floating on air. I know I don’t have as much time on this Earth as I’ve already had, but I see it as saying, ‘Mavis has been here, y’all.’ Before I move on, I just want to leave some Mavis with you that you’re not used to hearing. I want to leave you with some joy and love, and some don’t-forget-me songs.”
And with those words, her high note is revealed not as a pinnacle of ease and wealth but as a righteous life. Mavis is here, having weaved in and through all that fabric for all these many years, to show us that true joy lies simply in living for others. It’s the sermon Dr. King gave all those years ago, and we must be grateful that she is able to echo it for us now. Mavis takes us—not only there, but back, up, and through.
Since her first recording at age 13 in 1954, Mavis Staples has learned from, worked with, and schooled countless legends, and has brought her own timeless talent to every performance. From the Delta-inflected gospel sound she helped create in the 1950s with her father, Pops, and her brother and sisters as The Staple Singers, to the freedom songs of the Civil Rights era, to pop radio stardom during the Stax era with hits “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself,” to The Last Waltz, to serving as muse to both Bob Dylan and Prince at the peak of their careers, to 21st century collaborations with Van Morrison, Billy Preston, Zac Brown, Ry Cooder, Chuck D. and Willie Nelson, to her GRAMMY®-winning partnership with fellow Chicagoan Jeff Tweedy, the one constant has been Mavis and her singular voice. She has embraced her evolution, absorbing new sounds and ideas, rising to meet the challenges of longevity and bringing her message of hope and positivity to new listeners, song after song, show after show.