Arts Review, Movies
Jessica Edwards, director
Feature documentary on gospel singer Mavis Staples
Miss Mavis Staples, 76 years young, is still wowing audiences across the United States with her liquid contralto voice and effervescent personality. Mavis has been a star since her early teens when she started singing lead in the Chicago based gospel group the Staple Singers. Over the decades, she’s been the voice on number one soulful hits, toured constantly in the U.S. and internationally and had Prince, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and Steve Cropper of Booker T. and the MGs as her producers. She’s sung for Dr. Martin Luther King and the Reverend Jesse Jackson, been “smooched” as a teenager by the equally young Bob Dylan and counted Bonnie Raitt and Levon Helm as friends.
It’s been a life.
Jessica Edwards realised it, too, and has made a lovely documentary celebrating the career of the finest singers ever to make it into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. She’s assembled footage of Mavis singing with her famous family–singer Roebuck “Pops” Staples, brother Pervis and sisters Cleotha and Yvonne—from their days as a gospel group in the 1950s singing hits like “Uncloudy Day,” to groundbreaking work adapting message ballads like “Blowing in the Wind” and “For What It’s Worth” for African American audiences, through to their commercial apex in the 1970s with the classics “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself.”
Those great times are interspersed with contemporary footage of Mavis performing now, still accompanied by her devoted sister Yvonne. Mavis’ unsuccessful solo career is dealt with, as is the passing of the love of her life, “Pops” Staples, her smooth singing and blues guitar playing father, who held his family together for decades.
Apart from her family and career, Mavis’ life appears to be a cipher. She was married once, briefly, in the ‘60s. And she loved “Pops.” If there’s more to the story, we’ll have to wait for another bio to let us know.
What we have here is enough for now. Mavis! celebrates the life of a superb performer, one whose career will be long remembered. Those who enjoy her music will not be disappointed in Jessica Edwards’ reverent documentary.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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