How did the Staple Singers get involved in social protest music?
Back in the early sixties we were in Montgomery, Alabama. Pops called us all to his room. He said "Listen, y'all. This man, Martin. Martin Luther King. He's here in this town. He has a church here and I wanna go to his eleven o'clock service." And we all went to Dr. King's church, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. He acknowledged us. When service was over, Dr. King would stand at the door and shake all the worshippers' hands as they filed out. And we noticed Pops stood over there talking to him for a while. Then he came on back to the hotel and called us to his room again. And he said, "Look y'all. I really like this man's message. And I think that if he can preach it, we can sing it."
You've had a musical relationship with a wide variety of artists - Dizzy Gillespie, Mahalia Jackson, Bob Dylan. What do you do musically that fits in with all these creative geniuses?
I'm really blessed that the Lord gifted me with my voice. It's an unusual voice for a lady.
When I got to Parker High School as a freshman in 1956, I think Mavis was a junior. In the halls, there were a few people who stood out and Mavis was one of those people.
The Staples Singers performed at my church at a benefit when I was younger and everybody was very excited. I knew who she was, as did many people. She was Mavis Staples, the Staples Singers family member who did those incredible lead solos.
I left Chicago after high school in 1960 and came back in 1970 to do radio. From about 1970 on, I would run into Mavis and we'd talk. I cherish that friendship. She's got great stories. Bob Dylan asked her to get married one time. She's always been a very regular person. What you see is what you get. No phoniness, nothing contrived.