“If he can preach it, we can sing it.” Those were the words of Pops Staples, the father of Mavis, after he heard Martin Luther King speaking in Alabama in 1963.
The Staples Singers sang the soul of the civil rights movement. They recorded the song March Up Freedom’s Highway to coincide with the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, as well as others such as Why Am I Treated So Bad?, Long Walk To DC and When Will We Be Paid For The Work We’ve Done.
They sang when Martin Luther King gave his last, famous “I’ve been to the mountain top” speech to striking workers in Memphis the night before he was assassinated.
Now Mavis Staples has released a new album, We’ll Never Turn Back, that is firmly rooted in the spirit and message of the 1960s civil rights movement.
The album cover shows a photograph of school students from Birmingham, Alabama, facing down the fire hoses as they protested. They were arrested until their numbers filled the jails.
Backing vocals on the album include some of the original SNCC Freedom Singers. A number of the tracks, such as Eyes On The Prize and We Shall Not Be Moved, are cover versions of traditional songs with new arrangements.
In The Mississippi River is one of the new songs on the album that effectively recreates the feelings of fear and tension experienced by civil rights campaigners as they travelled through the South.
My Own Eyes, written by Mavis Staples, is a personal view of her experiences, including the time her family were jailed “by Southern racist cops” as they toured. She makes a powerful statement about the situation for black people 50 years on from the struggles and how Hurricane Katrina exposed that things still needed to change.
Mavis writes in her introduction to the album that her family felt that they had to stand up and be heard in the 1960s. This is still true today, she adds, “We’ve got to keep pushing to make the world a better place.” A very timely sentiment and album.
We’ll Never Turn Back
CD out now on Anti Records