#RespectYourElders: Mavis Staples (born 1939) is a Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, actress and civil rights activist born and raised in Chicago. She is most known for her successful career as a gospel singer, and continues to perform regularly.
Staples first began performing with her family as The Staple Singers at just 11 years old. The family hit the road, becoming a nationwide sensation in the gospel music genre. Later, The Staple Singers released several hits chronicling and in support of the civil rights movement, such as “Long Walk to D.C.” and “When Will We Be Paid.” (Fun fact: during this time, Bob Dylan proposed to Staples, but she turned him down.)
Staples released her first solo album in 1969. She went on to release 14 total albums, which included top singles such as “I’ll Take You There” and “I Have Learned To Do Without You.”
Staples won both of her Grammy awards later in life. She won Best Americana Album in 2011 for “You Are Not Alone” and Best American Roots Performance in 2016 for the song “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.”
She’s also made TV and film appearances, including in “The Last Waltz” and “Soul Train.” Most recently, she was featured in a 2016 HBO documentary titled “Mavis!” about her life and the work of The Staple Singers.
Staples remains a civil rights activist and recently spoke to NPR about the relevance of civil rights-era music today. This January, she was featured on an Arcade Fire song benefiting the American Civil Liberties Union. Last December, she was celebrated by former President Barack Obama when she received her Kennedy Center Honor for her contribution to American culture through performing arts.
Staples released her latest album, “Livin’ on a High Note,” in February of last year. She still performs regularly — often in Chicago, where she still resides— and is currently on an international tour, traveling around the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.