Mavis Staples: Her Father's Daughter

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Mavis Staples reflects on her father's death on her new album, You Are Not Alone. courtesy of the artist hide caption

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mavis staples

Mavis Staples reflects on her father's death on her new album, You Are Not Alone.

courtesy of the artist

Mavis Staples says her father, Roebuck "Pops" Staples, played a significant role in her development as a performer. The singer recalls his advice at an early performance, when she, at 13, felt it necessary to replicate the energy of a young gospel group who'd gone on before her.

"I got on stage and started doing what they were doing," she says. "Pops snatched me off stage and he said, 'Mavis, what are you doing?' I said, 'I'm singing, Pops.' He said, 'Listen, let me tell you something. You're singing God's music. You be sincere and sing from your heart. Because what comes from the heart reaches the heart.' "

Staples was devastated by Pops' death in 2000, so much so that she gave up singing. The family was particularly close — together, they had topped the charts in the '70s as The Staple Singers. It was another family member, her sister Yvonne, who urged her to return to the stage.

While her spirits were renewed, Staples says she struggled early on to attract interest from record labels.

"No one would take me," she says. "I'm old school. These record companies want the kids."

She's found her home with Anti-Records, which released her latest record, You Are Not Alone, last week. The album was produced by Jeff Tweedy, lead singer of Wilco. The singer-songwriter also had a hand in writing songs on the album. Staples says that when Tweedy first approached her about his songs, he only had a title in his head. He quickly came up with a melody and the lyric of one song, which became the record's title track.

"This is one of the most beautiful songs I ever sang," Staples says of "You Are Not Alone." "I could've sung it to myself a few years ago. I actually got choked up listening to this song."

She associates another track, "Losing You," with her father. She says she often feels his presence during performances, and that she keeps his lessons alive in her heart and mind.

"It keeps me surviving," Staples says.

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