At 83, Mavis Staples remains focused on her abiding mission: keeping her family's legacy alive.
That family, of course, is the Staple Singers, the vocal group born on the South Side and consisting of patriarch Roebuck “Pops” Staples, sisters Cleotha and Yvonne and brother Pervis. All are now gone. In a June interview with New Yorker magazine editor-in-chief David Remnick, she recalled, “The other day, I was talking about retiring, but then I thought, what would I do? I just felt like, why is this 82-year-old woman [she turned 83 in July] going up onstage with these kids? I don’t want to burden nobody. ... I talked to the Lord. I asked him, ‘Why am I still here? My whole family is gone. What do you want of me? What am I supposed to do? Have you kept me up for a reason?’ And the only reason I could see is to sing my songs.”
In the New Yorker interview, Staples also talks about her life on the road (which brings her to Orchestra Hall for a Symphony Center Presents Special Concert on Feb. 4) and her encounters with music luminaries Sam Cooke, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones and Wilco.
But for everyone, the road leads to a certain end. And she is at peace. “If it comes tomorrow, I’m ready. I have done all that I’m supposed to do. I’ve been good. I’ve kept my father’s legacy alive. Pops started this, and I’m not just going to squander it. I’m going to sing every time I get on the stage — I’m gonna sing with all my heart and all I can put out.”