yvonne staples

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this adorable nerd though, could she be more excited…? total swiftie [x][x]

The Staples era at Stax with Cropper is often ignored, but it contains several crucial songs, none better than “When Will We Be Paid?,” the final track on We’ll Get Over. The song, written by the former doo-wop singer Randy Stewart, framed the civil rights struggle as an unpaid debt by America for three centuries of labor and service: “We have given our sweat and all our tears/We’ve stumbled through this life for more than 300 years.“

Horns answer the family’s unison voices as they chant the chorus— “When will we be paid for the work we’ve done?”—underpinned by Cropper’s typically terse, rhythm-lead guitar fills. The Staples turned the song into a piece of theater in concert, with heads bowed and arms raised. Ignored by radio, the song accrued anthemic resonance when performed in front of largely black audiences, who would applaud between verses and sometimes demand that the song be sung twice.

When Pops sang it, he’d think about his grandfather spending most of his young life as a slave in Mississippi, and about his years as a youth spent sharecropping only to see his family fall deeper into debt. The song anchored the Staple Singers’ shows for years, and Pops always made sure to give it three centuries of context.

A few years after it was recorded, Pops introduced the song to a capacity audience at the Apollo Theater. “We were in Africa a few months ago and we went to see where the African people were sold and then brought into the States to be working for over three hundred years—for nothing!” His voice rose, the trademark Pops gentility momentarily shoved aside for some Old Testament sternness. “They helped build the U.S. and make it what it is today. And still we’re second-class citizens.”

The fans who weren’t out of their seats already, now stood. Pops was reminding them of their collective past, and it rang true. “Preach!” one cried.

“We’ve got to fight and get our respected places where we belong— first-class citizens just like anybody else. We want to be respected and get just what the other fellow gets because we’ve been the horse and worked all those many years for nothing. A young man wrote a song asking the question, ‘When are we gonna get paid for all the work we’ve done?’ All of that back time.”

Now Pops, ever the preacher, lowered his voice for dramatic effect. He turned confiding, conspiratorial.

“Well, we won’t get paid for that job, but I don’t live for that day. What I want y'all to get hip to, is try to get paid from now on in. Not only in money but in every respect. Go where you want to go—be recognized—and in every respect we need to get paid in every kind of way.”
—  Greg Kot, I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers and the March Up Freedom’s Highway