Swing Low, Sweet Mavis

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I had an epiphany, one that's no doubt so embarrassingly obvious that I'm somewhat ashamed to cop to it, but here goes: I'm currently writing a profile of iconic rocker Leon Russell for a music magazine and, while soaking up Leon's recordings, I realized how much rock & roll owes to black gospel. There's a to-the-bone energy in African-American church music that rock clearly absorbed -- or stole, to be blunt -- and yet those tracing rock's roots are quick to credit the blues, gospel's secular cousin, but they often forget to mention spirituals. And to be even more painfully evident, what is soul music but gospel without the God refs? Mavis Staples is the living Queen of Gospel, having inherited the mantle from the late Mahalia Jackson. If she were an opera singer, she'd be classified as a dramatic contralto -- no dame can out-husky Mavis. From her youth in the Staple Singers through her latest solo album, You Are Not Alone (produced by Jeff Tweedy and due in September from Anti-Records), Staples has been channeling the Holy Spirit for more than a half-century. She's so bedazzling that legend has it that the young Bob Dylan asked her dad, Pops Staples, for his daughter's hand in marriage. (She nixed the nuptials, but they're still pals.) The Grammy Foundation's Scott Goldman will interview Mavis tonight; she'll also answer audience questions, belt a few tunes and no doubt melt a few hearts. Hallelujah!
Mon., Aug. 30, 8 p.m., 2010

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