I’ll Take You There, Greg Kot’s new biography of Mavis Staples, is so much more than just a bio of Mavis. This book chronicles many aspects of American life from the dawn of the civil rights era through the present, as seen in the context of Pops Staples and one of the most enduring family bands of all time, the Staples Singers. It visits such topics as life in the Jim Crow rural south, the great migration, travel on the chitlin’ circuit, the role of entertainers supporting the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, and the fascinating world of the young soul singers born in Mississippi who grew up on Chicago’s south side, including Mavis and her siblings, Sam Cooke, Lou Rawls, and many more.
Kot examines the dynamics of the top southern soul recording studios and their house bands at Stax and Muscle Shoals Sound studio. There are insights into Pops’ songwriting and the collaborations Mavis forged with other musicians as she established her solo career.
Kot, a long time music critic for the Chicago Tribune, has had a long working relationship with the Staples, which gives him an enormous advantage in researching such a far-ranging book. His research is built on archival material from record labels, publishers, and music journalism, and also hundreds of interviews spanning many years with not only members of the family, but music industry professionals, media members, many, many musicians, friends, neighbors, fans, and others as well.
For the public familiar only with the uplifting gospel and blues music that made Mavis a star, the complications and tragedies of her life will come as a revelation, and her artistic triumphs take on a much deeper significance.
This book is highly recommended.
I’ll Take You There, Kot, Greg Scribner, 2014 294 p.
reviewed by Rob Shoemaker, ©2015