Civil rights icon and legendary gospel singer Mavis Staples has released the title track of her upcoming album If All I Was Was Black
Before there was Beyonce making protest songs and performances in honour of Black Lives Matter, there was a little lady from Chicago with a big voice who did it first. Mavis Staples, along with her siblings and beloved father Roebuck ‘Pops’ Staples, has been singing for freedom and quality for nearly six decades. The Staples’ ‘Why (Are We Treated So Bad)’ was Martin Luther King’s favourite song, and the group frequently performed for him and marched with him. The group became one of the iconic acts of the era, with Mavis Staples earning her rightful place in history as one of the world’s greatest singers.
Today it was announced that she would be releasing a new album entitled If I Was Was Black on November 17th on Anti Records. She has also released the title track off the upcoming album, an uplifting modern civil rights anthem.
If All I Was Was Black will be her fourth album in seven years, produced once again by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, who produced her two Grammy award winning albums You Are Not Alone and One True Vine (M. Ward produced her last album Livin’ On A High Note). Her next album appears to be a return to her days as one of the voices of the American civil rights movement; on debut single she asks, ‘If all I was was black/don’tcha want to know me more than that?’
A poignant question with Donald J. Trump in the White House, and a perfect time for Staples to return to her civil rights roots. In a press release she is quoted as saying:
“We’re not loving one another the way we should. Some people are saying they want to make the world great again, but we never lost our greatness. We just strayed into division.”
For Staples, the aim of the album is for “[t]hese songs to change the world.”
Unlike many other artists her age, Staples has no plans to retire. In 2014 at a conference on civil rights, she said:
“I was there, and I’m still here. I’m on the battlefield, and I’m fighting. And I won’t stop. Every concert that I do today, I’m still singing freedom songs. I’m still singing. I’m not going to let it go ’cause I’m a witness. I’m a living witness, you know”
She may be 77, but she still has that big warm voice, and after all these years she still has a message to spread. And long may she continue.