Mavis Staples On 2016, Ringo Starr And Prince | WBEZ
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Morning Shift

Mavis Staples Reflects On The High And Low Notes Of 2016

Soul and gospel legend Mavis Staples had a pretty good 2016. She kicked off the year with a new album, Livin’ On A High Note, that was followed by an HBO documentary. This year also marked the 40th anniversary of the seminal concert film The Last Waltz, which she took part in. And she capped it all off by receiving the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors award this month. 

But the year also had some lows, such as the death of friend and collaborator Prince. 

Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia talks to Staples about the ups and downs of 2016. Here are some highlights. 

On getting a Kennedy Center Honors award

Mavis Staples: That was the best. It’s like, the Kennedy Center? I actually met President Kennedy. I’ve been there to the Kennedy Center and sang for friends who were receiving this honor; Paul McCartney, I sang for him and I sang for Al Green.

But I never thought -- I never dreamed -- that they would call me, that they would honor me. I’m just Mavis. These are giants. 

Tony Sarabia: Oh come on. You’re a giant. You’ve been doing what you’ve been doing for more than 50 years now. 

Staples: I have. I’m grateful. When my manager called and said, “Mavis, are you sitting down?” I said, “Should I be sitting down? Are you going to tell me something? Is somebody is sick?” 

“No, something else I gotta tell you.” 

So I sit down and say, “OK, I’m sitting.” 

And when he told me, “Mavis, you’re being honored by the Kennedy Center,” I jumped. I said, “Oh, I’m standing up. I’m standing and about to do a cartwheel.” 

On celebrities at the Kennedy Center Honors celebration

Staples: Ringo Starr is a card. He’s a card. “Mavis, you know you should be singing for us. You know you should be singing.” 

I said, “Why don’t you sing? You could, too.” 

“No, you’ve got the voice. I’ll do the drums.” 

I said, “OK, you play drums for me.” And we did a little skit. 

And this other guy, Scarface. Al Pacino. He was dancing around and so I started. He said, “You got to do it like this.” So I started singing, “Do it again, do it” (from “Let’s Do It Again”), and then I told him, “Let’s do it in the morning.” 

He said, “Oh Mavis, I don’t do it in the morning.” 

On the death of Prince 

Sarabia: This year alone, I was counting the number of passings of musicians, and of course one of the biggest ones was Prince. He produced two of your albums -- Time Waits For No One and The Voice. What was your initial reaction when you heard that he had passed away? 

Staples: I couldn’t believe it. I could not get myself together. My heart, I just felt empty. 

We were at Coachella. Just as I get into the hotel, we get checked in, and as (my tour manager) and I walked into my room, my cell phone rang, and it’s my brother. 

Pervis said, “Mavis, I’m so sorry.” I said, “What are you sorry about, Pervis?” He said, “Mavis, you haven’t heard?” I said, “Heard what?” He said, “Prince is dead, Mavis.” 

I said, “Pervis, don’t play with me.” He said, “Mavis, you know I wouldn’t play like that. Prince is no longer with us.” 

I didn’t know what to do.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Check back later for audio of the entire interview.  

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