Mavis Staples was among the artists honored this year at the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C., where Bonnie Raitt, Andra Day and Elle King paid tribute to the soul legend by performing some of her most renowned tracks.
Raitt and Day, backed by a gospel choir, teamed for a medley that featured the civil rights movement anthem “We Shall Not Be Moved” alongside the Staple Singers’ “Freedom Highway.”
Raitt also delivered a speech saluting Staples at the event. “From the first time I heard her sing, I was gone,” she said. “She had the deepest, most soulful, simultaneously earthy and anointed voice I’d ever heard.” Staples sat next to Barack and Michelle Obama.
“The haunting harmonies, tremolo guitar and powerful message of the Staple Singers, playing for the rallies to end segregation and discrimination, and my heart was pierced from that moment on,” Raitt added.
Following Raitt’s tribute, Elle King performed a soulful medley of the Staple Singers’ Stax classics “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There” while Staples dabbed tears from her eyes in the balcony.
In addition to Staples, the Eagles, James Taylor, Al Pacino and pianist Martha Argerich were celebrated at this year’s Kennedy Center honorees. Speaking at the event, President Obama lauded the varied group for both their talent and wide-reaching impact. “Their legacies are measured not just in terms of works of art but [also] the lives they’ve touched,” he told the crowd.