“This is a blessed day. This is Dr. King’s Day!” shouted Mavis Staples, the award-winning civil rights singer, from the stage during her keynote address and musical performance in a nearly full Pick-Staiger Concert Hall on Monday.
“I feel like what’s happening today was a part of Dr. King’s vision,” Staples said during an onstage interview, in which she meandered through stories of family life, meeting King and her music career.
“And I tell you, when it [Barack Obama’s election] happened I tried my best to turn a cartwheel!” she added with a chuckle.
A jazz band, student choirs and a few guest speakers built up excitement for the performance. Shouts and cheers filled the venue throughout her interview and it took a while for the audience to quiet down.
“It was definitely a highlight and we learned more about her and why she was here,” said Weinberg and Communication junior (and Associated Student Government Academic Vice President) Mike McGee of the interview.
But for some, the songs were what mattered. “They took me back to when I was a kid singing in church,” said Joan Hickman, an Evanston resident. “The song ‘Why do you treat me so bad?’ had particular meaning for me.”
Staples’ deep voice sailed through smooth notes and guttural tones. She roamed about the stage, throwing her hands in the air and grooving from side to side. Her liveliness spread to the audience; almost everyone stood up to dance to the last few songs.
“I think just the power of how that music could carry people through and sustain them through such awful times was incredible,” said Evanston resident Anya Cordell.
Before inviting them to sing along with her, Staples told the audience that her family has been singing for 59 years. With a grin, she said, “And you all ain’t seen the last of me!”