Listen to this track featuring the first family of gospel/R&B message music, the Staple Singers. It’s “When Will We Be Paid”, a key track off of 1970’s We’ll Get Over, and later to be featured in the film Soul to Soul, a documentary and concert film shot in Ghana the next year, and featuring the Staples along with Santana, Ike & Tina Turner, Booker T. & the MGs, Wilson Pickett, and others.
The song itself is something of a civil rights anthem, a history of what black people have contributed to the course of American culture and history. They were taken from their homes in West Africa, taken to the colonies as slaves and later as cheap labour to fuel the industries of a burgeoning super-power, and yet were given no credit for that country’s success.
The performance of “When Will We Be Paid” in Ghana was something of a cultural homecoming of sorts, stylistically speaking. Yet in many ways it’s a pretty universal story of struggles against oppression and exploitation in general. Read more
Read this article from Clash Magazine with legendary soul singer Mavis Staples. It was written by a guy I know from my music geek community. And note: the question about her finding her own identity while in a group with her family was my contribution!
The article talks mostly about her early days in the Staple Singers, and growing up during the civil rights movement. Apart from the history of the music, it’s an interesting window into an era that ushered in what we now have come to accept as a more civilized society where racial relations are concerned.
Mavis’ voice has always been an instrument which has affected me on an emotional level. From the film the Last Waltz, her verse in “The Weight” when she sings “HEY CARMEN” always lays me low. And when I saw her perform in person, with sister and fellow Staple Singer Cleotha singing back-up, I got equally choked up when she hit that very same note in the same song. It’s like hearing the voice of God to me. She had a cold that night, with the deep rumble beneath her soulful, alto voice even more resonant than usual. She was quoted as saying “I was once Beyoncé!”, and proceeded to knock us all out.
The person introducing Mavis that night revealed that Bob Dylan (“Bobby” to Mavis) had romanced her in the early days of the civil rights era, with her dad Pops Staples giving his blessing. What might have resulted from such a union, I wonder?