Black History Month in Books: Greg Kot's 'I'll Take You There - Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers, and the March up Freedom's Highway'

By Ian Holubiak on Feb 24, 2014 05:40 PM EST

Indeed, the Staples are (at the risk of sounding redundant) a staple of Americana music. Their distinct history is perhaps the American dream, captured in Greg Kot's latest I'll Take You There: Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers, and the March up Freedom's Highway.

Longtime pop music critic for the Chicago Tribune, Kot finally gives us a unique insight into both the family and the music.

In the late 1920s and early '30s, Pops Staples worked in the fields at Dockery Farms in the Mississippi Delta. He learned how to play guitar by watching other performers such as Chester "Howlin' Wolf" Burnett.

 In 1936, Pop--along with wife Oceola, daughter Cleotha and son Pervis--joined the Great Migration and relocated to Chicago's South Side. In 1937, Yvonne was born; two years later, Mavis joined the family.

The Staples established themselves by performing at Chicago's black churches and started recording for a series of small independent labels. The Staples' style was unique enough that it transcended race labels like R&B and, especially, "Black Gospel."

Pops & Co. reached out beyond gospel music proper, performing "White Folk" music.

Even better, their advocacy for social progress entwined with their family version of Jesus proper. Central to the time, it was perhaps the era's key political and artistic tendency.

And Pops and Mavis Staples did it best.

The rest is Staples history and Mavis' contributions to Kots' Slate-endorsed book are juicier than one may think. I mean, she and Bob Dylan apparently had a relationship, which culminated with their first kiss at Newport Folk Festival.

And then her performance with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy at the Colbert/Stewart "rally" in Washington, D.C.

So, in continuing with our Black History Month coverage here at Classicalite, here is Mavis' roll call of African-American civil rights leaders: "I'll Be Rested."

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TagsMavis Staples, The Staples, Bob Dylan, I'll Take You There: Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers, and the March up Freedom's Highway, Newport Folk Festival

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