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Mavis Staples soars at Jazz Alley before sister faints onstage
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Mavis Staples soars at Jazz Alley before sister faints onstage

by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

Mavis Staples
March 4
Dimitriou's Jazz Alley


Midway through her performance at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley, and in the middle of sharing a story about meeting the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mavis Staples was forced to leave the venue after her backup singer and sister Yvonne Staples fainted onstage. The concert was the first of six over the course of four consecutive nights in Seattle.

The R&B/gospel legend, listed amongst Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Singers of All Time, opened her show with a soulful rendition of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" backed by a guitarist, bassist, drummer and three supporting vocalists. Dressed head to toe in black with caramel-colored bobbed hair, Staples was quick to greet a packed house on Thursday night.

"We've come here to bring you joy, happiness, inspiration and some positive vibrations," Staples said before launching into a bluesy version of the folk classic "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize". Her next song was electrifying; she wrapped her smoky, robust vocals all over the Southern gospel favorite "Wade in the Water" like a thick marinade. At 71 years of age, Staples can still sink her deep chops below the surface of each song and unearth its inspirational message.

Between songs, Staples showed her age -- and her good humor. "I ain't as young as I used to be," she joked when she forgot the next number on the set list. It turned out to be a terrific cover of The Band's "The Weight," and she finished by shaking her hands in the air as fiercely as if she'd just been zapped by a visit from the Holy Ghost.

Staples began telling the audience about her father, known famously as Pops Staples, who had gathered the family together one morning to go hear Dr. King deliver a sermon in Montgomery, Alabama. This eventually led to the Staples Singers joining the civil rights movement and performing freedom songs as part of their act. Her father, referring to the African-American leader, once said, "If he can preach it, we can sing it."

A heartbreaking turn of events took place moments later. Staples' sister Yvonne fell unconscious to the floor, and Staples knelt on the beside her and wept. Yvonne was soon taken to Swedish Hospital.

At press time on Friday, I was informed that the remaining slate of Staples' performances at the Jazz Alley would go on as scheduled.

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