4 Great Collaborations Featuring Mavis Staples, Including Duets with Bob Dylan and Dolly Parton

Mavis Staples celebrated her 85th birthday on Wednesday, July 10. The legendary soul/gospel artist first made her mark as the deep-voiced co-lead singer of her family group The Staple Singers, which began as a popular gospel act, then became active in the 1960s civil-rights movement, before finding success on the pop and R&B charts in the 1970s.

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Staples also launched a solo career in 1969, and collaborated with a variety of artists over the years. After the 2000 death of Mavis’ dad, Staple Singers leader and guitarist frontman Roebuck “Pops” Staples, her solo career became her main focus.

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As a member of The Staple Singers, Mavis was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2018. She also was saluted at the 2016 Kennedy Center Honors, and was welcomed into the Blues Hall of Fame as a solo performer in 2017.

In honor of Staples’ birthday, here are four memorable collaborations she four other noteworthy artists:

“Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” – Bob Dylan and Mavis Staples (2003)

Staples befriended Bob Dylan in the early 1960s and the two even were briefly romantically involved. Dylan even proposed to her, but she turned down his offer, believing she was too young at the time.

In 2003, Staples teamed up with Dylan to record a duet version of his tune “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” for a tribute album called Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan. The song originally appeared on Dylan’s 1979 Christian-rock album Slow Train Coming.

[RELATED: Music Legend Mavis Staples to Celebrate 85th Birthday with Star-Studded Concert Featuring Chris Stapleton, Hozier, & More]

The updated rendition of the song features a humorous spoken-word interlude that depicts Staples arriving at Dylan’s home in California. As the two chat, Bob admits to her that he has the blues, and Mavis tells him that a good way to get rid of them is to sing. The music then kicks in as Staples and Dylan harmonize over the rocking blues-gospel tune.

Staples and Dylan’s duet was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals category, but didn’t win the award.

“Lay My Burden Down” – Dr. John (Featuring Mavis Staples and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band) (2005)

In 2004, Dr. John celebrated the music of his hometown, New Orleans, with his album N’Awlinz: Dis Dat or d’Udda. The project featured collaborations with a variety of artists, including Staples, who contributed vocals to renditions of “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Lay My Burden Down.”

The version of “Lay My Burden Down” also featured music by the acclaimed New Orleans group the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The song is an American spiritual that features a melody similar to the popular traditional tune “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

Staples and Dr. John trade lead vocals on the uplifting, joyous rendition of the song.

Dr. John and Staples’ rendition of “Lay My Burden Down was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Gospel Performance category in 2005.

“Nina Cried Power” – Hozier (Featuring Mavis Staples) (2018)

Staples was a guest vocalist on “Nina Cried Power,” a 2018 song by soulful Irish singer/songwriter Hozier. The song celebrates music artists who have fought during their careers for civil rights, including Nina Simone (the tune’s namesake), Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, James Brown, and Staples herself.

Staples added her gritty, impassioned voice to the song’s choruses, and also to a break section later in the tune.

“Nina Cried Power” was the lead single from Hozier’s 2019 album, Wasteland, Baby! The song reached No. 10 on the Irish singles chart, and topped the Billboard Adult Alternative Airplay tally.

“Why” – Dolly Parton (Featuring Mavis Staples) (2018)

Staples duetted with country legend Dolly Parton on “Why,” a song from the country legend’s soundtrack to the 2018 Netflix film, Dumplin’.

The song combines elements of pop, folk, and blues, while offering up a positive message encouraging people to love one another and accept each other’s differences.

In an interview video promoting the Dumplin’ soundtrack, Parton revealed that she’s loved Staples singing since she was young, and that she wrote “Why” with Mavis in mind.

She then noted, “When [I] heard our voices together, … it just ran through me like lightning. It was really like a drug. … My hair almost flew off!”

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