Stephen Colbert presented Mavis Staples the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 58th annual National Arts Awards Monday night in New York City. But first he had to explain the somewhat bizarre reason he was asked to do the honors. The Late Show host said he’s a long admirer of Staples’ soulful voice — from her start performing gospel-inflected music with her father Pops and siblings as the Staples Sisters — as well as her ability to energize the minds and leaders of the Civil Rights movement, including Martin Luther King, Jr.
But Colbert’s friendship with the singer began unexpectedly. During the series finale of his Comedy Central show The Colbert Report, Colbert said that, in the heat of the moment on live television, a voice “popped into his head,” telling him out of the hundreds of guests and performers he could and ought to recognize, the only person it made sense at the time to thank was Mavis Staples. So that’s what he did.
Since that impulsive moment, their friendship gave way to numerous all-star performances over the years and was on display at the New York City gala, which honors artists and arts supports for their national leadership. And Staples, who has continued her prolific seven-decade singing career with a new original studio album If All I Was Was Black, was not shy about her persistence. “I don’t want to sound conceited, but I deserved this,” Staples said to a burst of applause. “I’ve been singing for a lifetime and I love it so much … You all better look out, because God is not through with me yet. I’m not stopping. I’m gonna keep on pushing.”
Staples also nodded to her late friend, Aretha Franklin, who received the Carolyn Clark Powers Lifetime Achievement Award in the past. “She was the greatest,” said Staples. Then, turning to her other pal, Colbert, who was holding the golden Jeff Koons Balloon Dog trophy, said with a laugh, “now give me my balloons!”