RFF 2012: Mavis Staples

Despite being the definition of a living legend, Mavis Staples and her sixty-plus year musical career might be unknown to some of the younger attendees of the 2012 Regina Folk Festival.

She’s ready for introductions, though. To this day, she’s a vibrant performer even at the age of 72. Her recent work matches that vitality; 2010’s You Are Not Alone, a Grammy-winning album she made with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, is deeply-felt and different than anything she’s produced before.

RFF artistic director Sandra Butel looks for that willingness to try something new in the artists she books for the festival.

“I’ve seen it happen with Buffy Ste. Marie and I’ve seen it happen with k.d. lang, that there are women who are reinventing themselves and getting recognized by a younger generation of players,” says Butel.

At the same time, Staples still brings a lot of history along with her, including her time in the civil rights movement with the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“It was scary at times. We felt like what we were doing at first, before that, was strictly gospel songs. And you feel that you’re a servant. This was a cause that needed our voices,” Staples told Jesse Thorn in a career-spanning interview for Bullseye. (They even discuss Staples’ collaboration with Prince.)

I told Butel how excited I was to see a figure who had been around for so much.

“Yeah, she was there,” says Butel. “And now she’s going to be here.”

Author: James Brotheridge

Contributing Editor with Prairie Dog.