Mavis Staples is living, breathing history. She is an alchemist of American music, and has 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—even hip hop—over the better part of the last 60 years, the iconic singer has seen and sung through so many changes, always rising up to meet every road unwaveringly.
Now in her seventh decade, with the release of her new album Livin’ on a High Note (ANTI-), she is only gaining momentum. This album serves as a cohesive summation and furtherance of her illustrious career, embodying the glory of her unmatched spirit as she continues to push herself to cover fresh, joyful ground. Refusing to fade away, she continues to work and 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 that might keep you perked up a little longer. 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 give it to us now. Mavis, take 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 from all arenas, and has brought her own timeless talent to each and every performance. Who else can claim to have answered the call time and time again, to become a leading voice of not just a generation, but of multiple eras and in myriad manifestations? Who else was there to sell a million gospel records, walk beside Dr. Martin Luther King, sing with Mahalia Jackson, to help lead the ‘70s soul-power movement, to seize the spotlight during “The Last Waltz,” to serve as muse to both Bob Dylan and Prince at the peak of their careers, and to win over 21st-century fans with a trio of deeply spiritual solo albums produced by Ry Cooder (2007’s We’ll Never Turn Back) and by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy (2010’s Grammy winning You Are Not Alone and 2013’s critically acclaimed and Grammy-nominated One True Vine)?