Mavis Prevails With A Little 'Faith'

Excerpted from the magazine for

The gospel market has been flooded with music by newer acts this year, but one of the most intriguing releases is by a veteran artist who remains in peak form.

Mavis Staples' Alligator Records release, "Have a Little Faith," is filled with the kind of gutsy, emotional performances that have defined her stellar career.

"My happiest moments are when I'm singing," says Staples, who began performing with her family at age 10. "I can't imagine retiring."

Her family's group, the Staples Singers, began their career performing in churches and emerged in 1956 with the hit "Uncloudy Day." They became known for their uplifting music as well as their social consciousness and involvement with friend Dr. Martin Luther King during the civil rights movement.

In addition to their spiritual repertoire, the group found major crossover success with such hits as "Let's Do It Again" and "I'll Take You There." The Staples Singers were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

Over the years, the Chicago-based Staples has recorded several solo projects, including 1970's "Only for the Lonely" on Stax's Volt imprint, and 1989's "Time Waits for No One" and 1993's "The Voice," recorded for Prince's Paisley Park label.

Staples took some time off in 2001 to care for her sister, Cleotha, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease, but returned to the stage in 2002. "My sister, Yvonne, and I are doing what Pops taught us to do," she says of family patriarch Roebuck "Pops" Staples, who died in 2000. "I know he's smiling on us."

The seeds for "Have a Little Faith," her first solo release in more than a decade, were planted when Mavis was in the studio recording her father during what would become his final recording sessions. After Mavis recorded a couple of songs herself, Yvonne encouraged her to make another solo album.

The album includes the Sept. 11-inspired tune, "In Times Like These." There's also "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," the first song her father taught his children. Staples also sings a funky homage to her dad, "Pops Recipe," which she co-wrote with Tullio and LeRoy Marinell.

Staples says "Have a Little Faith" seemed like an obvious choice for the album's title "because that's all we need is a little faith, just about the size of a mustard seed. Everything will be alright if you just have faith."

Staples' goal for her new project is to encourage people. "I wanted to shed a ray of light on our world," she says. "We're living in such troubled times. I wanted it to be healing. I know how healing music is, and I felt certain we could put an album together that would be uplifting."

Staples has a busy schedule this fall, including dates with Al Green at the Orpheum in Boston (Oct. 19) and in New York at the Apollo Theater (Oct. 21) and the Beacon Theater (Oct. 23). She will also perform Oct. 20 on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien."

Excerpted from the "In The Sprit" column in the Oct. 23, 2004, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to subscribers.

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