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CBMR Digest is a publication of the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago

ISSN # 2168-3301spring 2014 | Volume 27, No. 1

Kot Writes New Book about The Staples

The Staple Singers—Roebuck “Pops” Staples and his children Mavis, Cleotha, Yvonne, and Pervis—shaped the gospel boom of the 1950s with one of the best-selling gospel hits of all time, “Uncloudy Day.” They helped put Bob Dylan on the map by covering his songs; framed the civil-rights soundtrack at the side of their close friend and spiritual guide, Martin Luther King Jr.; defined the message and protest music era; and sold millions of albums and singles (“I’ll Take You There,” “Respect Yourself”) while recording with Stax Records in Memphis during the 1970s. Then Pops and Mavis reinvented themselves as Grammy-winning solo artists. Connect all the dots and you have a picture not only of music’s evolution in the last half-century, but also of the trials and triumphs of the African-American community. 

When Mavis Staples began her comeback in 2004 a few years after Pops’ death, she willed herself back into the public conversation. As Mavis Staples turns seventy-five years old this year, it’s time to ask “How many artists have sustained their brilliance over six decades the way she has?”

The book I’ll Take You There chronicles the band’s story, tracing it back to the slave era to the present day—a century of history-making change in the African-American community and in America itself, with the Staples at the forefront of much of it. It is the first book to document the Staples’ story, through extensive interviews with the family, its friends and associates, and artists such as Prince, the Rolling Stones, David Byrne, Bonnie Raitt, the Band, Jeff Tweedy, John Fogerty, and countless others who have been inspired and influenced by its music.

Comments from reviewers:

  • “Involving from beginning to end…[Kot] charts the [Staples] family’s origins in gospel music; their gradual drift into folk, soul and pop; the reverberations of their increasingly political songs during the civil rights era…. I’ll Take You There…is rich musical history.” (New York Times.)
  • “Remarkable…. With Mavis opening up the Staples archives and providing access to family and friends, Kot…[shapes] a story bigger than just that of a singing group.” (The Commercial Appeal.)
  • “A darn good story…. Whisking readers over a span of nearly 100 years, author Kot presents a roller-coaster ride of the highs and lows of one of gospel and soul’s most iconic families…a great look at history, both musically and culturally…. If you’re a fan of soul, R&B or gospel, I’ll Take You There is a book you’ll want to corner.” (The Topeka Capital Journal.)
  • “Fascinating…. Musical analysis doesn’t get much better.” (DownBeat.)
  • “Mavis Staples and the Staple Singers are a mighty river running through more than a half-century of song, connecting Sam Cooke to Prince and Bob Dylan to Wilco. Thoroughly researched and elegantly told, I’ll Take You There offers powerful and inspiring insight into not only American music, but American history.” (Alan Light, author of The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah”.)
  • “Kot depicts the endurance of Mavis Staples and her family’s music as an inspiration, a saga that takes us, like the song that inspired this book’s name, to a place where ain’t nobody crying.” (Washington Post.)
  • “A thorough and illuminating biography that offers plenty of revealing details about a group the Band’s Robbie Robertson once likened to ‘a lonely train in the distance.’” (Paste.)

Greg Kot has been music critic at the Chicago Tribune since 1990 and is the cohost of the nationally syndicated public radio show “Sound Opinions.” I’ll Take You There is his fifth book.

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