Legendary singer will sing from the heart

The legendary Mavis Staples is coming to the Centre for the Arts.

The legendary Mavis Staples is coming to the Centre for the Arts.

She’s won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She’s been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And at 72, Mavis Staples just keeps on going.

With a career spanning more than five decades, the venerable rhythm and blues singer has released 13 albums and 16 singles. It’s a serviceable resume for any musician, but Staples, a gospel and blues legend, is not about to quit.

“I’m dedicated to singing,” she says in a phone interview from her Chicago home. “My voice is a God-given gift, and I can’t abuse a blessing.”

Staples will appear at the Sean O’Sullivan Theatre on Jan. 25 in one of about eight Canadian stops. Ten days earlier, she’ll perform in Oakland, Calif. for a 10th annual tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.

The constant touring is a joy for Staples. She’s been playing gigs largely non-stop since her latest album You Are Not Alone was released in 2010, fitting in appearances on shows such as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Late Show with David Letterman.

“Earlier this year, we were coming home for two days, changing luggage and leaving again,” she said. “We’ve never traveled that much in one year.”

Staples started singing professionally in 1952 with her family group, the Staples Singers. Doing songs that ranged from gospel to mainstream pop, the group released albums on a number of labels, including Epic and Stax Records. Their hits included “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There.”

Staples has received multiple accolades since then. She’s been named one of Rolling Stone’s greatest singers of all time. June 19, 2007 was officially Mavis Staples Day in Illinois in honour of her career and lifelong dedication to civil rights. June 12, 2005 was Mavis Staples Day in Chicago. She’s done a duet with Bob Dylan (2003’s Grammy-nominated “Gotta Change My Way of Thinking”). Last year, she won a Grammy for best Americana album.

Staples never grows bored of her career. She continues to be inspired by new audiences and new artists, she says. Her most recent favourite is British singer Adele, who she met recently in the UK. The young singer, couldn’t believe the gospel legend had heard of her.

“My sister had to tell her, ‘Mavis never goes out and buys a CD, but she went out and bought yours,’” she says.

Staples’ philosophy is to be as joyous as possible. She hopes Centre for the Arts patrons at her show feel uplifted.

“So many people are having a really hard time today,” she says. “I want to make them feel so good, they feel it for the next six months.”

She recalls at time performing as a young singer in New York City and following a group that had worn costumes and jumped around. When Staples took the stage, she tried to emulate them.

“My father took me aside and said, ‘What are you doing?’” she recalls. “‘You’re singing God’s music. You don’t need gimmicks. What comes from the heart goes to the heart. Sing from the heart and you’ll get through to people.’ And every time I go onstage now, that’s what I do.”

When: Wednesday, Jan. 25, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Sean O’Sullivan Theatre
Cost: $55
To order: 905-688-5550 x3257

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