Gospel and R&B singer and civil rights activist Mavis Staples, who has been inspiring fans with gospel-inflected freedom songs like “I’ll Take You There” and “March Up Freedom’s Highway” and the poignant “Oh What a Feeling” will come to Little Rock Sept. 23 for the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the desegregation of Central High.
The Robinson Center concert starts at 7 p.m.; tickets are $45-$65. There will a cocktail reception before the concert starting at 5:30 p.m.; tickets for the concert and reception range from $170 to $190. The concert is a fundraiser for the Little Rock Nine Foundation.
Here’s what Staples said in a recent interview with NPR before the release of her latest album, “Living on a A High Note”:
So before we let you go, I wonder if you have any thoughts for some of the artists coming up today who are singing about a lot of the same concerns that you had. I mean, “Why? (Am I Treated So Bad)” — somebody could have written that today.
Yes, that’s true. And I tell you, I watch the news sometimes and I think I’m back in the ’60s. It’s all happening all over again. This kid Chance The Rapper, he’s very good at explaining what’s happening in the world today. There are very few; I wish there were more who would sing songs like “Respect Yourself,” and “Reach out, touch a hand / make a friend, if you can.”
Pops used to tell songwriters, “If you want to write for the Staple Singers, read the headlines. We want to sing about what’s happening in the world today, and if it’s something bad, we want to sing a song to try to fix it.”
The performance is part of numerous events scheduled to mark the 60 years since Melba Patillo (now Beals), Carlotta Walls (now LaNier), Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Gloria Ray (now Karlmark), Jefferson Thomas, Minnijean Brown (now Trickey), Terrence Roberts and Thelma Mothershed (now Wair) desegregated Central High after the President Eisenhower federalized the National Guard to escort them in past the white mob. The problem was not, as our current president would say, “on many sides.” Thomas, who attended the 50th anniversary, is deceased.
Numerous events scheduled around the commemoration include the Arkansas Arts Center’s exhibition “Will Counts: The Central High School Photographs,” which includes one of the most famous integration pictures ever taken, the heckling of Eckford, on exhibit now; “The Surface of the Sky,” UCA faculty member Blake Tyson’s original composition for percussion commemorating the courage of the Little Rock Nine, to be performed at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies 6-8 p.m. Sept. 8; various ACANSA-related musical performances, like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band show; and many more, including multiple events Sept. 23 at Central High School, the outdoor stage at the Magnolia/Mobil Service Station across from the school and the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Visitor Center, and “An Evening with Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Tania Leon: Turning History into Art” at Reynolds Performance Hall on the UCA campus at Conway. Events run into next year, and include a book release of Beals’ book “March Forward, Girl: From Young Woman to Little Rock Nine.”