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Mavis Staples may be best known as one of the most dynamic gospel and soul singers of all time, but her involvement in the civil rights movement was just as important as her powerful voice. The vocalist and activist continues to add to her vibrant legacy as she is set to celebrate her 75th birthday this July.

Born July 10, 1939 in Chicago, Staples was reared in local churches where she groomed her soulful style. By the time she graduated high school in 1957, she and her family musical group, the Staple Singers, had already notched a hit song on the Vee-Jay record label. The Staple Singers consisted of her older siblings Cleotha, Yvonne, and Purvis and the family patriarch, Roebuck “Pops” Staples.

The group moved between the genres of gospel, R&B, and the blues, making a radical shift by becoming involved in the burgeoning civil rights movement in the 1960s. In 1963, after performing in Montgomery, Alabama, the Staples formed a bond with Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “Pops” Staples was enamored with Rev. King’s message, and for the next few years the Staple Singers became the voice of the movement.

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