Saturday movie review: Mavis!

Most folks are familiar with Aretha Franklin and her impact on the music scene—and the hearts and souls of listeners—for generation upon generation. It seems not as many folks may know as much about her contemporary, though: the equally soulful singer Mavis Staples.

mavis! documentary

The documentary MAVIS! is about to change all that, introducing younger generations to the inimitable powerhouse and—for those who may know a bit about her but aren't yet full-fledged fans—affirm her place and importance in American music and the civil rights movement.

As my husband and I watched MAVIS!, we each mentioned time and again things such as, "I didn't know she sang that!" and "I never knew she was involved in that!" Mostly, though, we both thought—and stated when the film was over—"I had no idea she was as incredible as she was... and continues to be."

For example, only long-time Mavis Staples fans might know the length of her career—including her time singing gospel with her dad and siblings as the Staples Singers—rivals that of The Rolling Stones. Or that the Staples Singers were instrumental in the civil rights movement, helping Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. get out his inspirational message on freedom (her dad, "Pop," was a good friend of Dr. King).

Mavis Staples also had an amazing impact on generations of musicians. She had a romantic relationship with Bob Dylan. She knocked KC and The Sunshine Band off the charts. Bonnie Raitt idolized her, learned from her, became a great friend. Prince signed her to his recording label in 1986 in hopes of revitalizing her career. Jeff Tweedy did revitalize her career just a few years ago. (I shared a video of their collaboration here in 2012.)

MAVIS! recounts all that plus so much more about the public as well as personal success and sadness of the iconic, energetic, endlessly inspirational Ms. Staples.

Most of all, MAVIS! shines a spotlight on the powerful, soul-stirring sounds of Mavis Staples. Here's an excerpt from the film, featuring Jeff Tweedy and proving Ms. Staples, nearing her mid 70s, is still going strong, still resonating with concertgoers:


MAVIS! had its world premiere at the 2015 South By Southwest Film Festival in March and continues to be screened at film festivals around the country. Visit the official MAVIS! website for more information and to (possibly) find a screening near you.

Disclosure: I received a link to screen this film for free, with no obligation to review.