Mavis Staples: The Music That Made Me

Stars reveal their musical DNA in our playlist special

Mavis Staples' playlist includes Bob Dylan, the Band and Sam Cooke. Credit: Daniel Boczarski/Getty

1. "Blowin' in the Wind," Bob Dylan, 1963
Bobby was a cute little guy in the Sixties. He had the curly hair and, oh, man, we had big fun at all the folk festivals. He's the world's greatest poet as far as I'm concerned. He just laid it on the line here: The answers are passing us by, blowing in the wind.

2. "Since I Fell for You," Buddy and Ella Johnson, 1945
I fell in love with this song walking past a juke joint on my way to school every morning. When I sang it at a grammar-school variety show, my uncle snatched me off the stage, pushed me to my grandmother's house and told her, "This young'un is up at the schoolhouse singing the blues." Lord, I got the worst whipping in my life!

3. "Why (Am I Treated So Bad)," the Staple Singers, 1965
Back in the 1950s, there were nine black children trying to integrate a white school down in Little Rock, Arkansas. They would walk to school with books in their arms, and they would be spat on and called horrible names. My father, Pops Staples, watched that, and he said, "Why you treating them so bad?" And then he wrote this song. It turned out to be Dr. Martin Luther King's favorite.

4. "A Change Is Gonna Come," Sam Cooke, 1964
Sam Cooke was in my older sister's grade — we all went to school together. Sam's group and my brother Purvis' group would sing in church, and they'd have battles, with us children in the audience eating potato chips and drinking pop. Later, when Sam recorded "A Change Is Gonna Come," it would bring tears to my eyes every time I heard it.

5. "The Weight," the Band, 1968
Being in The Last Waltz was the most beautiful thing that ever happened to the Staple Singers. I still can't get offstage without doing "The Weight." We were already close friends with the Band by then — with Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson and Rick Danko. Danko would keep you laughing! He was really cool. 

6. "You Are Not Alone," Jeff Tweedy, 2010
When Tweedy wrote this song for me, I was just getting started again after my father had passed away. It's one of the most beautiful songs I ever sang. If you think about it, I'm all alone now. I'm the last standing Staple Singer, and I'm divorced. So when I sing this song, I mean it. I'm with you — I'm lonely, too.