It was 1955 the first time a 16-year-old Mavis Staples played the Apollo Theatre with her family, led by the late Roebuck "Pops" Staples, as part of Thurman Ruth's Gospel Caravan. "I remember it very well," says Staples, now 75 and calling from her lifelong home on Chicago's South Side. "It was good me and my sisters were so young; we could run up those stairs to our dressing room on the third floor," she recalls. "We had lots of Chock Full o'Nuts; I remember it all. It was so exciting."
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More than a half-century later, the storied singer, who went solo with her 1969 self-titled album, has become an American treasure, with 14 records behind her and more, no doubt, in the future. But it wasn't until her 2007-onward affiliation with punk label Epitaph's sister company Anti- (also home to another long-beloved late bloomer, Bettye LaVette), that she truly entered the pop-culture zeitgeist. Staples's first effort for the label, 2007's We'll Never Turn Back, was produced by Ry Cooder. Her two subsequent studio albums were helmed by Wilco hero Jeff Tweedy.
See also: Q&A: Bettye LaVette on Thankful N' Thoughtful and Losing a Grammy to Eric Clapton