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In concert: Mavis Staples at the Kennedy Center

mavis staplesTurning 70 hasn't slowed down soul legend Mavis Staples. (All photos by Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

By Mike Joyce

“Y’all gonna make me hurt myself,” moaned Mavis Staples, after throwing herself, body and soul, into a performance at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on Friday night. Moments later, though, the 70-year-old singer was back at it, delighting a packed house with her raspy voice, glowing presence and deep spirituality.

Part of the Kennedy Center’s Gospel-inspired “Joyful Sounds” series, the concert wasn’t tailored for the occasion. It was classic Mavis, a potent blend of gospel (“This Little Light of Mine”), R&B (“I’ll Take You There”), rock (“The Weight”), and freedom songs (“Eyes On The Prize”). Interlaced were family recollections and tributes to her late father, Pops Staples, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and fellow civil rights leader Dorothy Height.

(Familiar set list but plenty of spontaneity, plus more pictures after the jump.)

mavis staples

While the set list was familiar, the concert was infused with almost as much spontaneity as soul. Indeed, beginning with a rhythmically fitful reprise of “For What It’s Worth,” Staples appeared to revel in the sound of her own voice, often reaching deep for a blue note or a melismatic flourish.

Three vocalists, including occasional duet partner Donny Gerrard, generated resounding harmonies, while a seasoned three-piece combo, led by the remarkably resourceful guitarist Rick Holmstrom, alternated gospel beats with some slinky funk and twang. Playful and garrulous as ever, Staples wondered aloud why she doesn’t perform in Washington as often as she’d like. Good question. Given the numerous standing ovations she received from the capacity crowd, the Kennedy Center should keep her commuting between here and her home in Chicago.

mavis staples

mavis staples

By David Malitz  |  April 26, 2010; 11:45 AM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags: Mavis Staples  
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Next: In concert: Charlie Wilson and Chuck Brown at Constitution Hall


The Kennedy Center should seriously consider officially honoring Mavis Staples. She has marched with and sung for Dr. Martin Luther King. She has performed at the inaugurations of Presidents Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton. She has a voice like no one else in the world and has performed/recorded with Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, The Band, and dozens of others. She is a true American icon and deserves the honor.

Posted by: timsampson | April 26, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

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