Two of the leading supporters and institutions of music in Dallas, the Old 97s and Homegrown Music & Arts Festival, have combined forces to once more bring to us County Fair – the music festival with the 40-foot ferris wheel. The festival is all set to kick off on April 8 at Main Street Garden, Dallas, TX.

Old 97s - Country Fair
Old 97s – Photo by Mike Brooks/Dallas Observer

They have assembled a powerful lineup which includes Lucinda Williams, The Gordon Keith Band, The Jayhawks, and R&B legend and civil rights activist Mavis Staples.

Mavis Staples, born in Chicago in 1939, was a vital part of the Staples Singers – a group that would go on to be labeled “God’s greatest hitmakers,” and for good reason. The staples came to prominence singing gospel music that perpetually topped the charts.  “I’ll Take You There” was their 1st No. 1 hit.

The Staples family had always found refuge in the church, and in many ways singing gospel hymns allowed them to forget about the difficulties of living in the Jim Crow South.

Mavis Staples has won 2 Grammy awards in her storied life. Interestingly enough, another famous singer – Aretha Franklin – would sometimes use the Staples Chicago home as a waystation at the beginning of her career.

Mavis Staples Singing
Mavis Staples – Photo by Yalylah Burrell

“Freedom Highway” – a song sung during the civil rights movement during the 60s freedom marches, was written by Mavis’ father, Roebuck “Pop” Staples, in 1965. Mavis has said, “yes, he did, he wrote it for the big march, from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. We marched, we marched, and we marched, and it ain’t over yet.”

The spirit of those times still lives within Mavis. As she notes: “I’m still on that highway. And I will be there until Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream has been realized.”

Even now, Mavis often recalls advice given to her by her father, who passed in December of 2000: “sing from the heart,” he told her. Mavis admits, it is the best advice he could have ever given her.

The Staples Singers
The Staples Singers, led by “Pop” Roebuck.

Bob Dylan grew up listening to the Staples on the AM dial, and would later become a friend of the family. At one point he even asked Mavis’ father for permission to marry her. To this day Staples speaks about Dylan wistfully, and admits they were in love, but says she was too young to get married at the time.

According to Dylan, the way the Staples Singers sang was just different, and to watch Mavis perform today, to hear her sing, it is difficult not to be moved, to be just as awed by her powerful voice as Dylan was.


To purchase tickets or for more information about County Fair, visit