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More Than 50 Years In, Mavis Staples Is Still Delivering Messages Of Hope And Justice

Mavis Staples
Chris Strong Photography
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Courtesy of the artist
Mavis Staples

Mavis Staples is one of America's defining voices of freedom and peace.

Her family's gospel group, The Staples Singers, led by her father Roebuck "Pops" Staples, marched with Dr. Martin Luther King and wrote songs like "Freedom Highway" and "Why Am I Treated So Bad" that provided part of the soundtrack of America's civil rights movement.

More than 50 years later, Mavis says things haven't changed that much. "You know, this is supposed to be taken care of by now," she says. "I shouldn't have to be singing protest songs and 'Freedom Highway' and you know, but I love it."

At nearly 80 years old, Mavis is still delivering messages about hope and justice. She's a political activist and a rock star. As a solo artist, Mavis has made records with Prince and Ry Cooder. And she's also collaborated with an incredible list of contemporary artists including Ben Harper, Arcade Fire, Neko Case and Tune Yards.

Mavis' latest album, Live In London, was recorded at London's Union Chapel, and the songs on it span her entire career. From The Staples Singers' classics to songs from Mavis' recent solo albums to some surprising covers like the Talking Heads' "Slippery People."

In this session, we hear lots of music and stories from Mavis. She describes the first time she went to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak, looks back on her long friendship with the late Aretha Franklin and talks about her special artistic relationship with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy.

Copyright 2019 XPN

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Alex Lewis is an independent radio producer based in Philadelphia. He's written and produced longform audio documentaries including The Gospel Roots of Rock & Soul (nominated for a 2020 Peabody Award) - with WXPN and NPR Music - and Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio (winner of a 2015 National Edward R. Murrow Award).
John Myers
Since 2017, John Myers has been the producer of NPR's World Cafe, which is produced by WXPN at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Previously he spent about eight years working on the other side of Philly at WHYY as a producer on the staff of Fresh Air with Terry Gross. John was also a member of the team of public radio veterans recruited to develop original programming for Audible and has worked extensively as a freelance producer. His portfolio includes work for the Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, The Association for Public Art and the radio documentary, Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio. He's taught radio production to preschoolers and college students and, in the late 90's, spent a couple of years traveling around the country as a roadie for the rock band Huffamoose.