Mavis Staples is one of the last women standing from the original group of black American singers who made the transition from gospel to secular soul in the 1960s. Though less well known than contemporaries like Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, Mavis and her father Pops scored a handful of major hits as The Staple Singers (‘I’ll Take You There’, ‘Respect Yourself’); they also kept their integrity intact by appearing in The Band’s ‘The Last Waltz’ movie rather than ‘The Blues Brothers’.
This documentary takes an old-fashioned approach to Mavis’s story: archive footage and contemporary live shows are interspersed with drably photographed interviews with the singer, her road crew and a fistful of celebs – notably Bob Dylan, with whom she had a passing flirtation in the early ’60s. (‘We may have smooched,’ admits Mavis coquettishly.)
Disappointingly, this is one of the few personal details to make it into the movie – we learn almost nothing about her brief mid-’60s marriage and her decision to remain single ever since, while her sister and bandmate Cleotha’s death in 2013 isn’t even mentioned. Still, there are a few lovely scenes: Mavis listening to a new mix of one of her father’s last recordings is heartbreaking. For old-soul fans, ‘Mavis!’ is a must.