Need a little more sunshine in your life? If so, I encourage you to kick back and spend some quality time with Mavis!, the wonderful new documentary profile of singer Mavis Staples. You’ll come away with a smile on your face and a spring in your step, as you fall under the spell of the gospel and soul singing Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.
Mavis! debuts on HBO tonight, Monday, February 29, 2016, 9:00 – 10:15 p.m. ET/PT. (Check listings for additional HBO playdates in the weeks ahead and availability on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand.)
Piggybacked with the release of Ms. Staples’ aptly titled new album, Livin’ on a High Note (2/19/16), Mavis! is an uplifting, thoughtfully filmed and edited bio of the 76-year-old Grammy Award-winning singer whose remarkable 60-year career has crisscrossed the great divide between gospel and secular music. The film is an especially refreshing time capsule of American gospel, folk and freedom music and a much-needed reminder of the important role played by music in the spiritual and cultural lives of African-Americans and in the civil rights movement.
Kudos to director Jessica Edwards for making wise choices. Ms. Edwards proves with this film that it’s possible to combine music, spirituality, social and cultural history into an entertaining and edifying 80-minute biography without losing sight of its prime focus. Not only are we given a clear picture of The Staples Singers’ milieu and career timeline; but we are front row center at Ms. Staples’ recent electrifying performances to spellbound audiences of all ages, as well as her seminal performances as The Staples Singers’ lead vocalist.
Gigs at the Newport Folk Festival, then (1964) and now, are pivotal, as is the visionary role played by her beloved dad, musician Roebuck “Pops” Staples. His back story, nicely highlighted by a brief solo performance clip, is a revelation. Life-altering professional and personal ties with the likes of Martin Luther King and musicians Bob Dylan, Prince, Eric Clapton and Jeff Tweedy are chronicled via vintage performance film clips and photos.
Recollections from friends and collaborators, including Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, the late Levon Helm, Jeff and Spencer Tweedy, her producers, backup singers and musicians, among others, are assets in this briskly paced love fest.
Not one to be sidelined by recent knee replacement surgery, Staples is an exuberant, cane-waving dynamo on stage. Her voice, energy and spirit remain as vital as ever. “I’ll stop singing when I have nothing left to say,” she says.
Ms. Staples’ journey, on stage and off, her positive outlook driven by strong spiritual and family ties, and her eagerness to embrace young audiences and musicians will inspire viewers, especially musicians and music lovers of all ages, to be happy and become reacquainted with the music and legacy of The Staples Singers and, most especially, Mavis Staples.
Mavis! debuts on HBO tonight, Monday, February 29, 2016, 9:00 – 10:15 p.m. ET/PT. (Check listings for additional HBO playdates in the weeks ahead and availability on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand.) Be sure to watch!–Judith Trojan