Mavis Staples, the iconic rhythm and blues singer and civil rights activist, is to be awarded the annual Woody Guthrie Prize on Wednesday, July 22, 2015 at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, California. 

Staples will be the second recipient of the prestigious award that is given to artists who best exemplify the spirit and life work of Woody Guthrie by using their art form to speak up for the less fortunate and evoke social change in America. Pete Seeger, the American folk singer and activist, was posthumously honored with the prize in early 2014. 

Mavis Staples was born on July 10th, 1939 in Chicago, Illinois. Her musical career began in 1950 when she joined her family’s gospel group, The Staple Singers. The group’s first of many hit songs, “Uncloudy Day”, came in 1957, propelling them into the national spotlight and sending Mavis down a path that would lead to a lengthy career in gospel, soul and rhythm and blues music. 

Staples became motivated to do more with her breathtaking voice when she and her family performed at an event in Montgomery, Alabama in 1963. Civil rights leader, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was in attendance and met with the family after the show. He quickly became a close personal friend to The Staples Singers, with the relationship having a profound effect on the family. 

During a time when American civil right tensions were at their peak, Staples, along with her family, began to create music solely for the movement. Their songs became focused on the issues of the day pertaining to the need for racial equality. “March Up Freedom’s Highway”, “It’s a Long Walk to D.C.” and “Why Am I Treated So Bad” are just some of the songs that Mavis and The Staple Singers wrote and performed in order to spread their ideologies on the American public. 

In addition to performing with the The Staple Singers, Staples embarked on a solo career in 1969. She has since released over a dozen solo albums to critical acclaim, and continues to make records to this day. Over her lengthy career, she has collaborated with the likes of Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, Win Butler of The Arcade Fire and scores of other well known musicians. 

Mavis Staples bravely promoted racial equality through her music over a career that has spanned several decades. This is why she is now being honored by the Woody Guthrie Center with their annual Woody Guthrie Prize. 

Click this link for more information on the Woody Guthrie Center or the event honoring Mavis Staples.