At the table of the great American singers, there will always be a space reserved for the inimitable Mavis Staples. The lead singer of the family gospel quartet, the Staple Singers, Mavis has been on the road touring and recording music for over 60 years, and has helped shape a great number of cultures in American music. Mavis! tells the story of Mavis Staples, from her earliest days taking the lead in a church touring gospel group, her peak years of fame in the 60s and 70s, the contributions made by the Staple Singers during the civil rights movement, to her current life today, still filling halls and singing with a verve that would put even the most energetic of stage performers to shame.
The movie manages to strike the perfect balance between the political and musical, always correctly putting the music (Mavis’s foremost organ of expression) at the forefront. As the film draws out the relationship between the Staple Singers and the Civil Rights Movement, particularly the vision expressed by Dr Martin Luther King Jr, it always remembers to bring itself back to the heart of its subject. The talking-head interviews deftly illustrate the connection between the Staple Singers and American roots music, from gospel, to country and folk, and how, through small augmentations in the sounds and tones used, they transformed the shape of American popular music to come.
Documentaries of this sort often live and die on the strength of their subject, be it the characters they follow or the amazement one can feel from their achievements or tragedies. With Mavis Staple, director Jessica Edwards captures and delivers the perfect combination: both a person who has achieved great things and a personality that is wonderfully infectious. Her absolute love for what she does, her unbounded energy and her perpetual hopefulness radiate. While the documentary itself is not ground-breaking, the 80 minutes one gets to spend in the company of Mavis will not fail to fill viewers with joy.
Mavis! is released nationwide on 19th February 2016.
Watch the trailer for Mavis! here: