Aretha Franklin is considered the Queen of Soul, but Mavis Staples is Robin Hood. Now in her early 70s, Staples got her start singing gospel tunes as a child with her father, Pops, and her sisters as the Staples Singers in 1950. Ever since those early days, Staples has made a career out of sticking up for the little man through powerful songs.
In her youth, she marched with Martin Luther King Jr., helping to provide the soulful soundtrack to the civil rights movement. Staples and her sisters sang everything from Bob Dylan (who allegedly asked for her hand in marriage) covers to original gospel tunes with a message. Her infectious grizzly bear voice belted out timeless hits like “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself,” scoring hits throughout the ’70s.
Through the years her fight for social justice through song didn’t stop; Staples released Live: Hope at the Hideout, an album of freedom songs on Election Day 2008. Most recently she paired up with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy for the 2010 release You Are Not Alone.
Staples’ website says of the album: “The phrasing, the tempos, the arrangements are different, but the messages are the same things I’ve been saying down through the years. They’re about the world today — poverty, jobs, welfare, all of that — and making it feel better through these songs.”
Tweedy plays to Staples’ strengths throughout the album. The title track is a beautiful arrangement of soulful lyrics backed by Tweedy’s gentle guitar. Staples both growls and purrs all the way through; her low vocal range expertly showcased on everything from the Creedence Clearwater Revival cover “Wrote a Song for Everyone” to the rollicking gospel tune “Wonderful Savior.”
See this modern day musical Robin Hood tear through 60 years of soul at the Cuthbert Amphitheater 7 pm Wednesday, Sept. 5, with Bonnie Raitt. Tickets $65.50 reserved, $35.50 general admission, www.thecuthbert.com