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Watch a Tireless 83 Year-Old Mavis Staples Perform in a Concert Recorded in Chicago

Daniel Hautzinger
Mavis Staples sings into a microphone with her hand up in a black and white 1962 photograph
Mavis Staples singing with The Staple Singers at the second University of Chicago Folk Festival, in 1962. Photo: Chicago History Museum, ICHi-118846; Raeburn Flerlage, photographer

Mavis Staples has been moving, delighting, astounding, and lifting up audiences with her singular voice for over seven decades. Her still-vibrant talent is on display in a Chicago performance from earlier this year that will be broadcast on WTTW on June 7 at 8:29 pm and is available to stream now by WTTW Passport members.

Recorded before a hometown crowd at Symphony Center on February 4, 2023, the concert showcased the 83 year-old's boundless energy. She may have occasionally sipped from a cup of tea or rested on a seat, but that didn't stop her from joyfully dancing and singing through her wide catalog. You can hear decades of life in her darkened voice. 

"We want you to feel better than you felt when you first come up in here," she told the audience at the concert. "I'm going to have myself a good time!" 

Staples' career began in her birthplace of Chicago with her family band, The Staple Singers, with whom she started performing when she was eleven. The Staples combined blues and gospel, two genres with a strong presence in Chicago. ("My hometown, the home of the down home blues," Staples said with relish during the Symphony Center concert, enumerating some of the scene's legends: Muddy Waters, Koko Taylor, Howlin' Wolf.)

In 1962, when Mavis was in her early 20s, The Staple Singers performed at the second University of Chicago Folk Festival and were photographed by Raeburn Flerlage, as seen above. Soon after that, her father "Pops" began to write songs for the band in support of the burgeoning civil rights movement, generating such hits as “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself.” 

Mavis is the last surviving member of The Staple Singers, but she has had a late career blossoming on her own. Her 2010 album You Are Not Alone, produced in collaboration with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, won a Grammy, and she has continued to work with Tweedy on several of the acclaimed albums that followed. 

There appears to be nothing stopping her from continuing to perform, so it's likely that this recorded concert won't be the last we hear of her.