Review: Mavis Staples gives lively performance at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

“We’ve come to bring you joy, inspiration, happiness and positive vibration; and we want to leave you with enough to last you.”

With that declaration and promise, Soul/Gospel legend Mavis Staples greeted the near-capacity crowd at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland. She followed through and delivered during the 90-minute set she performed in the Kay Theater on Friday, November 8. She captivated an audience that included long-time fans as well as new ones she’s acquired along the way.

A skilled chameleon, Mavis Staples can effortlessly glide through the tableau of musical genres; R&B, Gospel, soul, folk and yes, even rock. Although peppered with some mainstream pieces, Friday night’s concert exuded a more spiritual experience. Staples sang many songs from her latest gospel album, “One True Vine” which debuted #2 on Billboard’s Gospel Albums chart this summer.

Staples was backed by Donny Gerard, Stephen Hodges, Rick Holmstrum, Vickie Randle, Jeff Turmes and her sister Yvonne Staples. Her set included, “I Like The Things About Me,” “Holy Ghost,” “The Weight,” “Can You Get To That” and more.

The earthy soulful vocals from the singer that Rolling Stone Magazine described as a “liquid contralto” when they named her of the 100 greatest singers, flooded the theater. At age 74, Staples continues to deliver with energy and charisma, although she’s temporarily using a cane due to recent knee surgery.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s performance was part of the Center’s Civil War to Civil Rights: The Well-Being of A Nation series.

Indeed, Mavis Staples and her family were an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement. Their 63 years of music-making encompassed marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The legendary singer recalled the family group singing before the marches, including the pivotal march from Montgomery to Selma, Ala.

She revealed that “Why Am I Treated So Bad,” written by Staples Singers patriarch, Roebuck “Pops” Staples was Dr. King’s favorite. The song is hauntingly beautiful with its plaintive cry as it brings to mind the struggles of that era. She sang another song penned by Pops in 1962, “Freedom Highway.”

With the band still playing behind her, Staples shared a little of her family’s history and impact on the civil rights movement. “My father wrote that in 1962, wrote it for the big march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama,” she sang. “I was there. And I’m still here on the battlefield fighting for love, hope, and peace.” Her words were part sermon, part proclomation as she was “still on that highway and will be there until Dr. King’s dream is realized.”

When Staples took a break in the wings, the audience was treated to a musical interlude with guitarist Rick Holmstrom, bassist Jeff Turmes and Stephen Hodges on drums. It was a dazzling performance that drew huge approval from the audience.

As the night drew to an end, she sang “Eyes on the Prize,” another song closely associated with the civil rights era. Of course, no Staples concert would be complete without their signature hit, “I’ll Take You There.” The audience got to share in the moment as Staples invoked a call and response. After giving Staples and her band a rousing ovation, the crowd filed out and many could still be heard singing “I’ll Take You There.”

Backstage Mavis Staples was still bursting with energy. She gushed about her latest exploits including performing at Royal Albert Hall in London and singing with rocker Van Morrison. By the way, it was a gospel song that Morrison wrote.

And yes, Mavis Staples confirmed that she does have plans to make another album. And her legion of fans will certainly be waiting.

Purchase “One True Vine” on iTunes and other digital outlets. For more information on Mavis Staples, visit her website at

© 2013 Sarah Hearn All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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