If All I Was Was Black
December 1, 2017 7:38 AM   Subscribe

"I have a mind to bury them whole,” Mavis Staples sings on her new album, If All I Was Was Black (YT playlist). It is not a very Mavis-like thing to hear the perpetually upbeat gospel legend sing. But after a lifetime devoted to fighting injustice through her music, such is the singer’s recent mood toward a renewed wave of bigotry and racial violence. Mavis Staples has had it.

Track samples available on her label Anti's site as well.

Mavis talks with the Chicago Tribune about her new album, her latest collaboration with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and how it fits into the current political climate. “It’s like we have to start all over again. It’s worse than it was in the ’60s because we have this man — I don’t like to speak his name — bringing out the worst in us."

The Guardian looks at the new record in the context of Mavis's life and work and talks with her about her history. "I’m only a solo artist now because most of my family are gone."

Pitchfork notes that a frustrated, angry record from Mavis Staples is an ominous bellwether of the national mood. "If you’ve pissed off Mavis Staples, then you’re doing something seriously wrong."
posted by DirtyOldTown (21 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
I just noticed in last week’s paper that Staples is coming all the way up here to Down East Maine (in late January, too!) as part of her tour for the new album. The article mentioned that her "first paying gig was at the Holy Trinity Baptist Church in 1948 with her family’s band." That is a long time to have spent fighting the good fight.
posted by LeLiLo at 7:58 AM on December 1 [5 favorites]

Mavis Staples is a national treasure. Maybe THE living national treasure.
posted by ardgedee at 8:04 AM on December 1 [9 favorites]

My sister-in-law went to see her with Bob Dylan at the Beacon here in NYC last week. According to my sister-in-law, someone in the audience yelled a racial slur at her while she was singing, along with other insults about her appearance. At Mavis Staples. In New York City. I'm really, really scared about where we're going.
posted by holborne at 8:24 AM on December 1 [18 favorites]

She performed this past summer at Summerstage in Central Park, and I got in the front, y'all! There were parts where I thought I was going to ugly-cry, I was so happy to hear her voice, and she made remarks about the the current societal situation without mentioning names. IIRC, she said something like, "I'm like that song, 'I won't back down!'". The crowd roared back approval. Ugh, I could cry right now.

And I made sure to tell the young people working at the t-shirt stand how important her (and Curtis Mayfield's) work is. I was distressed to find out that these teens to early 20-somethings hadn't heard of her at all, and were thinking of her as "some 1960s black lady that old white people like". I schooled me some kids that day.

I joke that she taught me to sing, but you know, she DID teach me to sing. One of the good things about where I grew up is that her music was played in the house more than Aretha Franklin's, and I would mimic her style as much as my incredibly high soprano would allow at the time (today I can pretty much sing the same range as she did during her youth). Nothing against the Queen of Soul, but Mavis 's singing felt warmer to me; more... inclusive? Inviting? Like she was invested in what she was singing. Anyway. I love Mavis, is what I'm saying.

Her work, in its way, taught me from the time I was very young to be proud of my blackness in the face of institutions in American society that would gladly have buried us all after the Civil War. Well, now, no. This is our country, too, and we shall be released!
posted by droplet at 8:30 AM on December 1 [25 favorites]

Mavis Staples is an international treasure.
posted by pracowity at 8:48 AM on December 1 [3 favorites]

Mavis Staples is a national treasure. Maybe THE living national treasure.

came here to say that, and I'm not even American. I suppose it all goes back to being about twelve years old and hearing I Know A Place pop up on the local Top 40 radio -- the sort of start to a song that you can't help but stop and listen to. And then, to my white suburban ears and soul, there comes this odd and powerful voice singing in a way I'd never really heard anyone sing before. Did I hate this weird sounding thing, or did I love it? I guess it was the latter because I couldn't stop listening to it.

A few other tracks of note from over the years.

Slippery People
(Talking Heads)
Gotta Serve Somebody (Dylan)
Positivity (Prince)
Can you get to that? (Funkadelic)
posted by philip-random at 9:05 AM on December 1 [4 favorites]

> I'm really, really scared about where we're going.

There are two things you should be about where we're going: really, really scared, and really, really prepared.
posted by AlSweigart at 9:11 AM on December 1 [3 favorites]

I'll Take You There
posted by evilDoug at 9:15 AM on December 1 [2 favorites]

Mavis Staples brought the house down at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in 2016. Impromptu outdoor venues aren't known for their excellent acoustics, but there is no better word to describe the enormous, usually boisterous crowd than rapt. Even the guy walking a goat on a leash stood transfixed.
posted by jesourie at 9:20 AM on December 1 [7 favorites]

There are two things you should be about where we're going: really, really scared, and really, really prepared.

100 percent. A bunch of friends and I are having a text conversation about that very thing. Frankly, we don't know how to go about it, but we're trying to figure it out.
posted by holborne at 9:20 AM on December 1 [3 favorites]

Obligatory note: the documentary Mavis! is great and 100% worth your time, because Mavis Staples is great and 100% worth your time.
posted by hijinx at 12:24 PM on December 1 [10 favorites]

...really, really scared, and really, really prepared.

friends and I are having a text conversation about that very thing

Can I diffidently suggest that installing Signal, WhatsApp or similar is preparedness task zero?

It's a really good thing I that the office was busy today, and I couldn't put headphones on at work, so I had to wait for that playlist. Being reduced to tears and fury by the first track would have been considered unprofessional.
posted by CHoldredge at 3:25 PM on December 1 [1 favorite]

Just started listening, and... holy shit, she is PISSED OFF! Like, this is intense. And I love this opening track's kind of repetitive worm-into-your-brain groove during most of it.
posted by hippybear at 9:58 PM on December 1

And so... this YT playlist isn't actually the album? It's two tracks and then other stuff? Or did I click a wrong link?
posted by hippybear at 10:05 PM on December 1

The full album stream is certainly there. Or here, rather.
posted by Grangousier at 3:25 AM on December 2 [2 favorites]

Mavis Staples opened for Bob Dylan here in Grand Rapids, back in October. She was amazing! Had the audience in the palm of her hand. After her set about 25% of the crowd left.

Dylan was...Dylan. He might have acknowledged there was an audience at some point, but if he did, I missed it.
posted by JohnFromGR at 5:40 AM on December 2 [1 favorite]

Holy cow is that album fantastic. Just finished the play through on YouTube and immediately went to Amazon to purchase. Listening this morning against the backdrop of the Senate vote last night actually was a little bit helpful. If Mavis Staples hasn't given up the fight for fairness and social justice, none of us really has any excuse to stop fighting for a better world.
posted by COD at 7:10 AM on December 2 [1 favorite]

Frustrated and angry but still clinging to hope in dark times, all against a murky funk-folk sound... this is really Mavis's There's a Riot Goin' On.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:18 PM on December 3

So excited for this. The You Are Not Alone album carried me through a particular dark part of my life, I expect this will be similar balm.
posted by mostly vowels at 7:47 PM on December 7

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