Clip: One MLK celebration
Staples and Taylor cast a musical spell
January 17, 2005
BY DAVE HOEKSTRA Staff Reporter
Two young boys were walking down East 47th Street during intermission of
the Mavis Staples and Koko Taylor concert Saturday night at the Harold
Washington Cultural Center. They stopped to look inside the new facility,
located on the once-desolate corner of 47th and King Drive. Their eyes
sparkled from deep inside the sweatshirt hoods that sheltered them from the
They looked to be alone. But they went away with the spirit of rebirth.
What was going on inside the concert hall on what would have been Dr.
Martin Luther King's 76th birthday was truly something to behold. The
1,000-seat cultural center was sold out on one of the coldest nights of the
city's "Winter Delights" series. The demographics were delightfully mixed:
black and white, young and old. And Staples and Taylor delivered
spellbinding performances. This was a night warmed by the wind of
Staples fronted a five-piece ensemble that included her sister Yvonne on
gospel-flavored backing vocals. She tailored her set to fit the occasion,
adding "Why? (Am I Treated So Bad)" which her father, Roebuck "Pops"
Staples, wrote after watching the Little Rock, Ark., Nine denied entry on a
school bus. Pops covered it in a country blues motif; on Saturday, Staples
reworked it with a foreboding tempo accented by staccato blues piano. As
Staples' vocals faded away with searching shouts and moans, she smiled and
said, "You know when you moan the devil don't know what you're talking
But everyone in the audience knew what this queen of American roots music
was talking about. Her 75-minute set included new material like the
up-tempo "Have a Little Faith" from her Alligator Records debut, Staple
Singers classics like "Respect Yourself" and Robbie Robertson's "The
Weight," which the Staples covered in "The Last Waltz" -- in fact, the
background lighting on Yvonne eerily resembled the same shadowed lighting
Martin Scorsese used on the Staple Singers in the movie.
In a night full of poignant moments, Staples and her band also put a
full-court press on the Staples' 1973 hit "If You're Ready (Come Go With
Me)" as Staples accented the timeless Homer Banks lyrics, "No disasters
will ever enter there ... no wars will ever be declared."
Through the entire Staples performance, opening act Koko Taylor sat
backstage clapping her hands. The Queen of the Blues, still not fully
recovered from 2003 life-threatening surgery to correct gastrointestinal
bleeding, delivered a gallant set. Taylor, 66, has lost some weight, but it
hasn't diminished her trademark growl.
Wearing a black and white sequined coat and black slacks, Taylor and her
band shadowboxed through "Let the Good Times Roll" and the obligatory
"Sweet Home Chicago." But Taylor completely immersed herself in a swampy,
gospel-tinged version of "I'd Rather Go Blind." And after telling the crowd
that "I'm not 100 percent, but I'm hanging in there," she powered through
"I'm a Woman," her reworked version of the Muddy Waters classic "I'm a
Man." Encouraging cheers and shouts from the audience pushed Taylor along.
Although Taylor was sitting in a chair, she asked her daughter Joyce if she
could stand up for her saucy trademark cover of Willie Dixon's "Wang Dang
Doodle." For an extra treat, Taylor brought on Dixon's granddaughter to
chip in on vocals. (Dixon, who died in 1992, was survived by 11 children
and 30 grandchildren.)
The evening was full of redemption on many levels. The cultural center is
built on the site of the original Regal Theater, where legends like Count
Basie, Duke Ellington and Jackie Wilson headlined, and several times it
seemed as if their spirits rushed through the hall. Onstage, Staples and
Taylor offered sets that were personified by character and empowerment.
This billing was more than a winter's delight. It was an important page
that was turned in Chicago's entertainment culture.