Photo by Chris Strong Photography
There are good concerts, great concerts, excellent concerts and then there are concerts like this. Mavis Staples is a 77 year old R&B, soul and gospel singer from the iconic band with her family members, The Staples Singers. She is a civil rights activist who sings powerful songs about marching in DC and the injustice towards marginalized people. Her voice is the perfect canvas for evoking emotion, she transports people with her tender lyrics and volcanic pipes. She has been singing professionally her whole life and her voice only seems to be improving, she is a rare and truly special artist.
Her performance at the Winnipeg Jazz Festival took place at the historic Burton Cummings Theatre on Wednesday night. The intoxicating Kandace Springs from Nashville provided a stunning and generous performance as an opening act. Springs resembles the likes of Nina Simone and Billy Holiday, while still incorporating a contemporary flare. She plays the piano and keyboard as well as she sings; beautifully and refined. Staples then took the stage, with all five of her bandmates, creating a remarkable presence that wasn’t lost on anybody in the room. She broke out in song immediately, delivering outstanding vocals that quickly hit you right in gut. Her band is a classic compilation of talented backup singers and individually brilliant artists. They create a picture perfect musical landscape well suited to the pristine performance. She then spoke to the crowd, revealing her stand up comedian side-she is as funny as she is charming on top of her mountain of talent. She engages with people, exemplifying her genuine belief towards unity and human compassion. She made jokes about her age, how a loving heckler was her “cousin” and how Madonna ripped her off. She also gracefully reeled into her eternal fight for freedom, the importance of being kind to one another and marching in D.C. Every part of the two hour performance was noteworthy and memorable. However, a particular highlight was during the song “Reach Out, Touch a Hand, Make a Friend” where she did just that to the front row.This was soon followed by a fan who walked right up to the stage with an old record and was abruptly withheld by security. Mavis politely invited him back to stage in which he revealed he had an authentic 78 of one of her first recordings with Pops Staples. She was truly moved by the gesture, signed the recording and took a picture with it. She even apologized to the security guard and held his hand briefly, he was melted. She glows with joy, has an infectious voice and sings about the various ways in which we can be better people with not even a dose of cheese or patronization. Although it may be cliched I was hoping she would sing The Staples Singer’s most notable hit “I’ll take you there” Not only did she sing it but ended this outstanding performance with it in which they entire crowd was invited to sing along for over 10 minutes. Her guitar player did wonders to the already perfect song, everybody there for at least that moment was connected-just as she planned. In our current world of division and hatred we could all be a little more like Mavis, she takes you there.