I recently spoke with pop diva Mavis Staples (previously of the Staples Singers) about her induction in the up-and-coming ‘Women Who Rock‘ exhibit at the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. Despite her recent Grammy win and busy touring schedule, the conversation was laid back and welcoming. Our chat soon turned from business to background. As a Chicago native, she was happy to talk to a fellow Midwesterner about how her roots have affected her songwriting.
KATE: How has your Midwest upbringing influenced you as a singer/songwriter?
MAVIS: The Midwest, especially Chicago, is a music city. We’re known for the blues, gospel and R&B. We have Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers, Albertina Walker and the Caravans. Then we have Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler…and then for gospel, the Staples Singers. We just have lived music a lot in the Midwest.
K: What made you want to sing in the first place?
M: My father. I’m grateful for him that he chose to sing with his children after singing with an all-male group. Those guys wouldn’t come to rehearsal, so he just came home one night, disgusted, went in the closet and pulled out a little guitar he had bought at the pawn shop. He called us children into the living room and began giving us voices to sing. [Songs] that he and his brothers and sisters would sing. That’s been since I was like eight years old. I’ve just grown up with music. And I’m just grateful that I’m still here and I’ve had a chance to sing all kinds.
K: So what are you looking forward to in the upcoming Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibition?
M: I’ll see all of my friends again: Cindy Lauper and Betty Wright. And Wanda Jackson — I’ve never met her, and to know that someone like her is still here, I’m really excited to meet her. You know, I’m always excited. I still get excited over new things that are happening in music like this. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is so beautiful already, and for them to be opening a new exhibit honoring ladies…with everything that happens, I just stay happy. And for them to include me is just wonderful. I’m anxious to get there in May to see it and be a part of it. Thank God for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Mavis will perform at the It’s Only Rock and Roll spring benefit concert on May 14, the day after the opening of the Women Who Rock exhibit. Tickets go on sale today on Ticketmaster for $20.