Andra Day and Bonnie Raitt Pay Tribute to Mavis Staples, Bard of the Civil Rights Movement

Mavis Staples, the gospel and R&B legend who was a prominent voice of the civil rights movement, was one of the artists recognized at Tuesday night’s Kennedy Center Honors in a flawless performance by Bonnie Raitt and Andra Day.

Staples, 77, who was honored alongside Al Pacino, James Taylor, the Eagles and the Argentine pianist Martha Argerich, performed with her family band The Staple Singers in the ‘50s and ‘60s before moving on to a long and storied solo career. Bob Dylan once proposed to her (when they saw each other at festivals, “we’d smooch!” she told The Guardian), but she turned him down.

“I’ve just been so happy,” Staples told the New York Times about the honor. “A whole lot of stuff don’t excite me no more, as old as I am, but I’m just bubbling.” In tribute to Staples, Raitt (who still, at 67, has a perfect voice) and Day performed “We Shall Not Be Moved” and “Freedom Highway” backed by a gospel choir.


Staples also had some choice words for the Times about our current political nightmare.

“I am really disheartened,” she said. “I’m about to relive the ’60s. I’ve seen some of it already. I can turn on the news and I can swear I’m back in the ’60s. The way things are going, every day it’s something. I feel like all of this is happening because of the way Mr. Trump is. He’s bringing it on. I’m going to have to start writing songs again.”

That last thing sounds all right to me! As a bonus, here’s a video of Sheryl Crow in a hell of a caftan paying tribute to fellow honoree James Taylor:

Ellie is a freelance writer and former senior writer at Jezebel. She is pursuing a master's degree in science journalism at Columbia University in the fall.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter



Thank you. Bonnie is my spirit animal — how to look/sound sexy and amazing at 60+.

Anyone else start to tear up at the shot of POTUS singing along to Fire and Rain?