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I'll Take You There: Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers, and the March up Freedom's Highway

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  140 ratings  ·  39 reviews
This is the untold story of living legend Mavis Staples—lead singer of the Staple Singers and a major figure in the music that shaped the civil rights era. Now in her seventies, Mavis has been a fixture in the music world for decades. One of the most enduring artists of popular music, she and her family fused gospel, soul, folk, and rock to transcend racism and o ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published January 21st 2014 by Scribner (first published January 1st 2014)
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Marvin
It has become a bit of a cliche to say 50s artists like Ray Charles contributed to popular music by merging a gospel feel into rhythm and blues. It is a good example of a cliche that rings true. Yet not much is said about the accomplishment of Pops Stable and his children. While Ray was merging gospel and soul together, Pops was taking elements of the blues and blending them into gospel.

It is also unfortunate that most people know The Staple Singers for their hits in the 70s like "I'll Take You
...more
Sarah
An engaging biography of a great band. I'm not sure it needed so many subtitles. I guess that's because it starts with Pops but finishes with Mavis. At times it felt a little superficial on some of the personal milestones, but the detail on the music portions makes up for it. When I saw Mavis play last year, I noticed that her sister Yvonne - the only other Staples on the stage - looked like she wasn't entirely excited to be there. This book made me far more sympathetic. Yvonne comes across as s ...more
Mara
This book was tremendous. I started it on a 3.5 hour plane ride and couldn't put it down. The family's history is fascinating, starting with the birth of Pops (Mavis' father) and all the way through the release of Mavis' last albums produced by Jeff Tweedy. The blurb doesn't really do it justice. I was expecting much more exposition on historical context, but Kot is such a skilled writer that I never felt like I was reading a history textbook or even a newspaper article as he skillfully describe ...more
Jeff Crosby
As one reared on the 1970s Stax Records catalog of The Staple Singers ("I'll Take You There," "Respect Yourself," "Reach Out, Touch a Hand" and "The Weight," among others) and a regular listener of Mavis Staples' solo work right up to the present time, I was delighted to see this release from Chicago Tribune music critic Greg Kot, published by Simon & Schuster in January of 2014.

As with his columns in the Tribune, Kot did NOT disappoint.

"I'll Take You There" deftly follows the Staples' ascen
...more
Art
A great book about music, of course, but also about musicality, which Greg Kot describes so well in story after anecdote throughout the book. I regret missing the author's appearance Monday at our great indie bookstore. Mavis and her sisters made a surprise appearance at the event.

Pops Staples was born in 1915 as a sharecropper's son on The Dockery Farms in The Delta with music everywhere. Howlin' Wolf also grew up there. Pops moved his family to Chicago in 1936. By the late '40s, his gospel-si
...more
Byron
I've been listening to the author's podcast for a minute, so I figured this would at least be reasonably thorough and well-put-together. It didn't disappoint in that regard. The thing you realize reading this book is that, while being an amazing talent sought after by the likes of the Band, Prince and Jeff Tweedy, the Staple Singers only really had one hit. This book is a little over 300 pages long. Much of the early part is just the family crisscrossing the South singing in churches for a few h ...more
Chris
While I can see what Kot was going for here, I must admit like a lot of GR reviewers I was left feeling like there wasn't a whole lot of Mavis in this book. Granted, I've seen her perform (wherein she always has something to say), I've heard the interviews, even one by Kot himself (thanks Lit Fest!). Nonetheless, the book is really more about the extended Staples family, and even stories told by Mavis to Kot don't outweigh his frequent reliance on Pops Staples' unpublished memoirs. Kot's style i ...more
M
I received this book as a Goodreads First Read giveaway.

As we follow the Staples family from their debut in 1948 at the Holy Trinity Baptist Church to 2011 when Mavis won her first Grammy, we also follow the changing American music scene as the various genres begin to blur and “cross-over” becomes a kind of norm.

The book also covers the connections between the Civil Right Movement and music.

author Greg Kot had the cooperation of the Staples family. His writing style is straightforward. He tell
...more
Ben
You might be fooled by the cover and title in thinking this is a book about how music inspired (or formed the soundtrack to) the civil rights movement. There are nods in that direction, but this is a book about music, by a music lover, to music lovers. And it's a lot of fun to read about Mavis' gospel roots, her dad's distinctive guitar sound, her idolization of Mahalia Jackson, dalliance with Bob Dylan, friendship with Levon Helm, and collaborations with Prince and Jeff Tweedy.
Ken
More than a biography of Mavis Staples, Greg Kot's fine book traces the history of the Staple Singers from their beginning as a gospel group to their crossover success with Stax Records, and Mavis' triumphant solo comeback in more recent years. The book takes an astute look at the music, but also places the group in the context of their time, and lays out their important role in the civil rights movements of the 1960's. All in all a wonderful by Kot, who had the cooperation of the Staples family ...more
Alexis
Unquestionably Mavis Staples can sing. The book is a compendium of famous singers, songwriters and musicians, including Prince, who were influenced by Mavis and The Staples Singers. "I'll take you there" provides snapshots in time and is almost a history book and an insiders look at civil rights and changing vales & mores from the 1940s to present.

I received this book via a Goodreads.com giveaway.
Bill Sanwald
An amazing book! Very well written. I have followed the Staples for over 40 years and was fortunate enough to see Mavis a few years ago. Greg Kot does a bang-up job putting into words the feelings one has when listening to or seeing Mavis perform.

I look forward to reading more of Mr. Kot. To me he is second only to Peter Guralnick in music journalism.
Dave
This was a really fun read. I enjoyed getting more background on the incomparable Mavis Staples, her family, and career. If this book has a problem, it's that the Staples were just too squeaky clean (despite some hints about Pops' dalliances). As a result, the book moves pretty quickly through their career without having a huge amount of bumps or drama (even their Civil Rights work is covered fairly quickly).
Joyce
How did I miss being a fan and collecting their records for all those years??? So glad Kot included a list of essential recordings in the back of the book.

If you've been alive for the last 60 years, and love music, I think you'll love this book. The Staples were "there" for everything.
Kevin
Way more about the Staple Singers as a whole than just Mavis. Nonetheless, this is a great document of one of the greatest groups of all time. The focus is on the MUSIC, the MESSAGES, and the impact, not typical biography fare. Now to track down Freedom Highway '65...
Tom
Good story and history of the Staples, with the obvious emphasis on Mavis and Pops. He glosses over the role of Al Bell at Stax, though. He hints, but never explains, as do other Stax-Volt histories, that the thuggish Bell stole and ran the label to the ground.
Kuva
Excellent musical biography of Mavis Staples and the Staple Singers. The particular strengths of this book are the numerous interviews with the Staples family and with their many admirers and collaborators, as well as substantial analysis of how their music works and what is unique about it.
Cbancroft83
I really enjoyed this excellent biography of the Staple family in general and of the amazing Mavis in particular! If his other books are this well researched and this enjoyable to read, I am really looking forward to reading all of them. Two thumbs way up!
Elizabeth  Higginbotham
Wonderful book, Kot writes well about the social history, the music and music industry and the importance of the Staple Singers to the social movements of the era. I learned a great deal about how the family functioned and their connection to other groups and singers of the era.
Hannah Notess
Really enjoyed this. I recommend reading it when you have access to the internet nearby because you will want to stop and listen to the songs mentioned. I wish Kot had gone a little more into the spiritual dimension or at least the relationship between the songs themselves and the Civil Rights movement, but he is a music critic so was pretty focused on music history, which is understandable.
Trinity School Summer Reading
To paraphrase the book jacket: The amazing story of a family that went from sharecroppers in Mississippi to world wide fame. A powerful and inspiring insight into not only American music but American history. Very cool book.
Frank Richardson
I love books that are 300 pages or less and right to the point. This book gives us a wonderful biography of Mavis Staples and the Staple Singers. From their roots in the Mississippi delta to the streets of Chicago, this book takes us on a musical history journey that is compelling and readable and enjoyable all at the same time.
Pearl Huang
A great story about the powerful role music and the Staple Singers in particular played in the civil rights movement that started in 1960. Makes you ask the question, where the musical leaders of today?
Parvati
As a big fan of Mavis Staples who has much of her music, it was great to read all about her and her family. Her Pops was incredible, rising from being a sharecropper's son to become an amazing musician, wise father, mentor, maintaining his integrity and style. I like how it began with his life and moved into Mavis's majestic performances, her strength and commitment. It was a good read, especially if you like a lot of details about the music. Takes gospel and makes it current, rhythm & blues ...more
Phil Overeem
Kot, writing cleanly and clearly, stays out of the way of a story that hasn't been told that often. This one passes my personal first rule of excellent music non-fiction: it will put a dent in your music-buying budget.
Lynn Kearney
I love this book, mostly because it teaches me about the Staples family and has encouraged me to go back and listen to their extraordinary music.
Mark
Very well written. Kot tell this amazing family's story without ever fawning or becoming starstruck.
Greg
It's not as revelatory as LISTENING to Mavis & the Stapleses, but it's the next best thing.
Sandy Merriweather
Amazing!!!!! Now I want to collect all of their music on vinyl!!!
Janelle
I enjoyed learning more of the history of this iconic singer and the civil rights movement. It was not terribly engaging writing, more of a documentary, but warm and personal.
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