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

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  268 Ratings  ·  68 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. One of the most enduring artists of popular music, Mavis and her talented family fused gospel, soul, folk, and rock to transcend racism and oppression through song. Honing her prodigious talent on the Southern gospel ci ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published January 21st 2014 by Scribner (first published January 1st 2014)
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Jan 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
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
May 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: all readers
Recommended to Brent by: Atlanta-Fulton Public Library
This is a useful biography of the Staples family, especially Roebuck ("Pops") Staples, and his children, including the great Mavis Staples. All the chapters are quite short: once I finally began, I could not stop reading. The book is very much from a Chicago music critic's perspective, but it fills a void. The Staples were among Dr. King's favorites, and that is here, too, together with the Staples' relationships with musical peers.

I have a memory of seeing the Staple Singers on the Flip Wilson
Feb 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music, biography
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
Oct 07, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-discussion
I hate to give this only two stars, but it just wasn't for me. While I often enjoy biographies about people I know little or nothing about, this felt more to me like a biography of the music and actual songs, and not the people. I think someone with familiarity of the Staples Singers music and other artists they worked with, and especially the songs (because you're going to hear about the same songs over and over and over again, throughout the decades, sung in similar and different ways, with di ...more
Oct 26, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 21, 2017 rated it liked it
This review is based on my personal preferences and no reflection of the writing of the book. Its great. Its easy. Its a little musical history of Chicago, main stream gospel, and music with the civil rights movement. Its a perfect pick for the one book one chicago.

What I didn't like is this is a family band and that is what the book discusses, its not just Mavis it is just as much about her father who everyone calls Pops and the rest of her siblings who made up the band. Also, I don't read a l
Jan 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Black churches existed everywhere there was a black American population. These churches provided stability and a community core for a largely disenfranchised group, and wherever there were black churches there was music. Black gospel music became a hybrid of spiritual praise and entertainment and in search of personal excellence its performers rehearsed outside of church hours; it was not uncommon for families to organically generate superb singing groups. The best of these groups could expand t ...more
Jan 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jeff Crosby
Feb 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Lori Tussey
Sep 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
A wonderful account of Mavis Staples and the legacy of her father and siblings, The Staple Singers. Whereas the book was dense with dates and names, it serves as evidence to the influence the family had on the civil rights movement and the music industry.I was fortunate enough to see Ms. Staples in concert this summer, which prompted me to read this book.I knew at the time that I was witnessing greatness but had little idea of the impact she and Roebuck Staples had. I especially love the direct ...more
Jonathan Hiskes
Feb 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic biography of one of my famous artists of any type. The Staple Singers drew from and fed into so many currents in the great river of American music--blues, gospel, folk R&B, country, and more. I know Mavis mostly from her late-career renaissance, but this makes me want look up so much of the family's earlier periods. Anyone who toured the South with Martin Luther King deserves a shot, right?
Mark Goddard
Jul 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Very entertaining and informative read. I kind of wish it was longer as I felt some chapters
were short. That being said I learned quite a bit about The Staples formative years and their close relationship with MLK. It is very sad that some of the same topics from 60 years ago concerning race relations are still relevant in today's world. All the more necessary to keep these stories alive as a constant reminder of the work that still needs to be completed.
Jun 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant because it focuses on what every music biography should focus on--the process of music making; on recordings, and on live shows. With a useful discography at the end of the book: a well-written, deep examination of what makes the Staple Singers so important in the history of 20th Century American music.
Oct 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
The life and career of the Staples Singer, one of the greatest folk-soul and gospel acts, is explored carefully in this richly written and well-sourced book. Kot takes considerable care when discussing the musical impact and legacy of the Staple Singers and their significance during the Civil Rights movement and beyond. Tracing back as far as Pop Staples’ childhood, Kot draws a clear narrative connecting Pops’ experience growing up on a Mississippi plantation to the spirituality driving the Stap ...more
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
The book spent too much time listing songs and not enough time discussing how the Staples felt about being wrapped up in turbulent times. It was more of a discography than a biography. That made it a tedious read.

Here’s an example- it says that Bob Dylan proposed to Mavis and it wasn’t a joke the way that people thought it was at the time. They dated for months and were in love. It implied she regretted turning down the proposal. That’s it. Such a major event and it gets half a page? Really? It
Oct 31, 2017 rated it liked it
This book was the 2017 One Book, One Chicago selection. As a longtime Chicago resident and a lifetime fan of the Staple Singers, this read was as easy as rolling out of bed for me. I think it would also work well for others as an introduction, a reflection, or a path to deepening an existing appreciation for the Staples. What Greg Kot adds to all of this is the exciting and moving context around the music of the Staples - their role in gospel music and the civil rights movement - as well the rol ...more
Doug Long
Oct 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's a pretty straightforward bio with some of Greg Kot's critical responses to music. I don't always agree with his critical conclusions, but that's not unusual. Most interesting are the Staples' early years, first as a strictly gospel act and then as a folk act that participated in the Civil Rights Movement, often opening for their friend, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Oct 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
While an important book, I agree that the writing was a bit too technical for my tastes. Would have enjoyed more dirt on the Staples' private lives (isn't that why one reads a biography?) More about the music than Mavis herself, which makes sense considering a music critic wrote it.
Read this because it's CPL's One Book One Chicago choice this year. Interesting history, but like most biographies I've read, it drags a little at times. Nobody is interesting for 100% of their lives.
Oct 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Great book about an incredible woman and her family. The Staple Singers were at the heart of decades of amazing music and the heart of the Civil Rights movement. Worth a read.
Jun 08, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Jun 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Very good biography of a very important band, the Staple Singers. The title gives Mavis top billing but this book is really the story of a family. It begins with Roebuck "Pops" Staples moving from Mississippi to Chicago as a young man in the 1930s, covers the formation of the group in the late 1940s, their early gospel success in the 1950s, their important role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, their great success at Stax Records in the early 1970s, and continues up through the present ...more
Jamie Howison
May 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As someone who really enjoys reading books about music and musicians (and who also happens to really appreciate much of what the Staple Singers produced over the years) this was a fine read. Kot goes deep, beginning with the childhood of Pops Staples on the Dockery Plantation in the Mississippi Delta and taking the reader right through to touch on (though only barely...) the release of Mavis Staples' 2013 album "One True Vine." Along the way he chronicles massive shifts in American music, cultur ...more
Riley Cooper
Jun 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
My only previous knowledge of the Staple Singers was solely from Top 40 radio in the early 70's. To me, they were the group with an old guy and his adult children singing songs about good values. Little did I know that they were respected and prized by so many accomplished musicians, including Bob Dylan, Steve Cropper, and Prince.

What attracted me to this book was the secondary title talking about their music shaping the Civil Rights era. From this book, I have gained a much deeper understanding
Nov 26, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Jul 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It's no secret that I'm a sucker for a good music biography and Greg Kot's biography of Mavis Staples was fantastic. There was no shortage of primary sources, so it felt like her story was being told correctly and authentically by the people that mattered to her and knew her. Pops Staples, in particular, comes across as a larger than life figure and definitely looms over Mavis's and the entire family's life in a positive way. Kot does a great job of touching on all aspects of Mavis's life inside ...more
Dec 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
I came to Mavis Staples late in her life. Admittedly, as familiar with the Last Waltz as I was, I hadn't realized that was her up front on The Weight until I read that chapter. Revisiting that while reading this book was especially moving. Mavis Staples let's you in, and its a beautiful thing. But this is a story about family, and Greg Kot does a nice job telling it. He hits the cultural and political backdrop of times when the Staples rose to fame, mixed with details of their unique style of mu ...more
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