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Mavis Staples: A Look Back In Regret

When Mavis Staples was young, she sang bass in her family quartet. As the years went by, her husky contralto led The Staple Singers to gospel fame and then pop stardom with message songs like "I'll Take You There." She recorded haunting love songs, too, and her admirers included Bob Dylan, who once proposed marriage. (She said no.) In the time since, Staples' 71-year-old voice has lost some of its suppleness and developed scratches and cracks, yet she continues to sing. And, with the right song and setting, she remains a thrilling performer.

"Losing You" is a prime example of the power Staples still holds in her vocal cords. The song, written by Randy Newman, comes from a new album produced by an unlikely collaborator, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. Staples takes on the character of an older woman who looks back on life and remembers one particular lost love. Her main musical backup is a shimmering, understated guitar, which conjures up the Mississippi twang of the late Pops Staples.

At the start of the song, Mavis Staples' voice still possesses a sultry, burnt-sugar glow. But as the seconds tick by, an inevitable roughness creeps in -- listen to the harsh tone as she declares she'll "never get over losing you." The loss feels profound, but her 2010 voice is perfectly suited for this lyric, as she turns a simple pop song into a lament that could move a listener to tears.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Marc Silver
Marc Silver, who edits NPR's global health blog, has been a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic. He is the author of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond and co-author, with his daughter, Maya Silver, of My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice From Real-Life Teens. The NPR story he co-wrote with Rebecca Davis and Viola Kosome -- 'No Sex For Fish' — won a Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.