Old school she may be, and a little ragged of voice, but Mavis has lost none of her vim. She's joined by her younger sister Yvonne, the only other active member of the Staples Singers, with Pops dead, Pervis retired and Cleotha struck down by Alzheimer's. "You can sit this out," Mavis tells a clearly relieved Yvonne, as she sings the title track from her most recent solo album, Have a Little Faith.
Yvonne needs the rest. The opener, "If You're Ready (Come Go with Me)", has the crowd trying to catch up with Mavis: "Is everybody ready? I KNOW you're ready... Go with me!" The voice - what the jazz writer Stanley Crouch called the "joy and thunder" of the Staples Singers - has lost its higher register and developed an alarming staccato tic, but what Mavis now lacks vocally is made up for by enthusiasm and warmth.
"I know you been waiting for this!" she says as she dedicates a poignant "The Weight" to its creators, The Band: Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson. "We were so happy to share The Last Waltz with them," she says of Pop Staples and Mavis's duet with The Band for the farewell concert, filmed by Martin Scorsese.
It's the first highlight of the evening. The second is a Latin-tinged acoustic "God Is Not Sleeping" from Have a Little Faith. "It's one of my favourites," says Mavis at the end. "It's one of my favourites now!" someone pipes up at the back. The Carter Family's "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?", a standard in the Staples Singers' gospel years, is dedicated to "Pops, Mom and Cleotha" and is introduced with a sweet anecdote about Pops' Mississippi boyhood, when he and his 14 siblings learnt the song.
We're reminded of her father again in the jamming session by Mavis's band, which at first appears to be a chance for the sisters to take a breather. But, in its guitar-led instrumental blues, it echoes parts of Jammed Together, the guitar album that Pops - an influential guitarist who learnt his trade from the Delta bluesman Charley Patton - made with Steve Cropper and Albert King. It's a reminder of how many of the Singers' biggest hits originated from impromptu jam sessions with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section.
Once the band are done noodling, Mavis and Yvonne bounce back with two of those Stax hits, "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There". By the closer, "Touch a Hand Make a Friend", the sisters are showing their spiritual roots, holding hands with the front row. Mavis may not be Beyoncé, but she's still every inch the star.Reuse content