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American Routes Shortcuts: Mavis Staples

Myriam Santos
Mavis Staples

We feature gospel and R&B singer Mavis Staples, from the second installment of our show all about Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan admired the civil rights songs of the Staples Singers and would hear them on tour in the early ‘60s. Mavis Staples remembers when her father, Pops, heard Dylan for the first time and how Dylan’s protest lyrics influenced their family in return.


Mavis Staples: When Pops first heard Dylan, Dylan was singing and Pops said, “Listen, ya’ll! Listen to what that kid is saying.” And Dylan was saying, “How many roads must a man walk down, before you can call him a man?”


MS: And Pops would used to tell us stories about when he was in Mississippi, he could be walking on the side of the street, if all of a sudden a white man was walking towards him, he’d have to cross over. He couldn’t walk on that same side of the street and not be called a man. And he could relate to that song. He told us, he said, “We can sing that!” And we came home, we got Dylan’s records, and we learned “Blowing In The Wind.”


MS: That was “Blowin’ in the Wind;” the answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind. And from that, we heard lots of folk songs. We heard songs like, “For What It’s Worth.”


NS: Now, I’ve gotta ask you: I heard your father received a request from Bob Dylan for your hand in marriage.

MS: [laughs] Well, Bobby, we met when we were teenagers, and that was the very same day we met!

NS: Oh that was a pretty quick proposal then.

MS: That was a quick proposal. He told Pops, he said, “Pops, I want to marry Mavis.” And Pops told him, “Well don’t tell me, tell Mavis!” And we courted for a while, we would write letters and talk on the phone, and we’d see each other at folk festivals. We were too young to travel to see each other. And anytime we’d see a folk festival where Dylan was gonna be, I knew I was gonna see Bobby. Bobby was a cute little guy, you know, he had curly hair, and he was kinda cute. I was kinda cute myself, you know! We were a good couple.

NS: I think you’re both still cute actually

MS: [laughs] That’s nice of you to say, Nick.


To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.