Mavis Staples

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f All I Was Was Black represents Mavis' third collaboration with songwriter and producer (and Wilco frontman) Jeff Tweedy. Their first partnership in 2010, You Are Not Alone, won a Grammy Award for Best Americana album. Their second effort together, One True Vine, was a Grammy nominee. But If All I Was Was Black marks the first time Tweedy has composed an entire album of original songs for Mavis' legendary voice and a nation she's uniquely poised to address.

In the wake of the race-baiting and rhetoric of exclusion appearing not just on the streets in 2017 but issuing from statehouses and even the White House, Mavis and Tweedy found themselves in sync and wanting to say something about the fissures dividing the country. "We're not loving one another the way we should," Mavis confided, as if sharing the secret to happiness, or something better. "Some people are saying they want to make the world great again, but we never lost our greatness. We just strayed into division."

Mavis is sure that the answer is to lift each other up. She's not embracing the anxious hesitation of respectability politics but the possibilities of love. "It's the compassion that I feel," she said. "I want you to feel that same compassion."

Mavis sang with family for her first paying gig at Holy Trinity Baptist Church in 1948, moving over time from the gospel circuit to radio and eventually even to stadium shows, collecting a number one hit along the way and adding almost every musical form to her repertoire. She has performed with Bob Dylan, Booker T., Ray Charles, and The Band, among many others, and has had music written for her by everyone from Prince and Nick Cave to Neko Case.

If All I Was Was Black embraces the idea that the country can redeem itself, and Mavis thinks she has an idea how to do it. "Bring us all together as a people - that's what I hope to do. You can't stop me. You can't break me. I'm too loving," she says. "These songs are going to change the world."