Author talks about The Staple Singers

Chicago Tribune music critic Greg Kot was interviewed on the April 26 edition of Greasy Tracks where he discussed his latest book, “I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, The Staple Singers, And The March Up Freedom’s Highway.”

A soulful story: Author Greg Kot discussed “I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, The Staple Singers, And The March Up Freedom’s Highway.” Book cover courtesy of Scribner.

Kot related the humble beginnings of the legendary family’s patriarch, Roebuck “Pops” Staples who was one of 14 children born on a cotton plantation in Mississippi. Learning to play the guitar at a young age, he would later move to Chicago where he toiled in a series of jobs, including a slaughterhouse, but always remained focused on bringing a career in music to fruition.

In time, the rest of the his family, including daughters Mavis, Yvonne and Cleotha and son Pervis, would follow

Kot spoke in depth about the family’s gospel- and blues-rooted music, but how they slowly made the then-unheard of move to secular music in the 1960s where they achieved critical acclaim and commercial success.

Bolstered by Pops’ talent as a guitarist with a unique style and sound and the family’s rousing vocals, the group built a following across the country as a highly regarded gospel outfit, but it was Mavis who became a focal point for her singing prowess.

In the style of his previous books, “Wilco: Learning How to Die” and “Ripped: How The Wired Generation Revolutionized Music,” Kot’s well-researched effort includes interviews with dozens of people who related their experiences with the Staples and the impact the family made on scores of artists.

The Staples nearly single-handedly united gospel with folk, blues and soul, but they were also intertwined with the figureheads of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and their music became an indelible soundtrack to the often tension-filled years of the struggle.

In the years that followed, the family became the darlings of the pop and R&B charts, especially during their spell at Stax Records where they recorded such famed tracks as “I’ll Take You There” which went to No. 1 on both charts in 1972.

The single followed the success of “Respect Yourself” which went to No. 2 a year earlier on the R&B charts.

Click here here for Kot’s interview

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