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Two powerhouse musicians are throwing a party Saturday night in the Amphitheater and all Chautauquans are invited.
Expect high energy from Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, setting the atmosphere through the music of the Crescent City, and from gospel icon Mavis Staples, pairing the passion of the pulpit with the funk of the dance floor when they take the stage at 7:30 p.m. Saturday with the final popular entertainment performance of the season.
Both performers ignited their love of music at a young age. Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, now 37, earned his nickname when his instrument was as big as he was when Bo Diddley invited him onstage at 4 years old to perform at New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Staples, who turned 84 on July 10, began her singing career in 1948 at age 11 performing with her family’s band The Staple Singers.
“Staples has never limited herself to gospel,” according to a Financial Times review of a July performance in London. “Her rich voice has elements of rock, soul, R&B and funk in it, a world of music. But in true church style, her singing has always cried out for a response, the answering call from a congregation.”
Most of Trombone Shorty’s music is instrumental, but over the years, he has grown more confident in his voice, as he told The Washington Post in June.
“When we were coming up, I didn’t even want to introduce the band because I didn’t like the way my voice sounded, but over time, I’ve gotten a bit stronger,” he said. “I’m still working on it very hard.”
He certainly works with his voice on his latest album in 2022, Lifted, “blur(ring) the lines between funk, soul, R&B and psychedelic rock,” as it is described on his website.
“We always have that New Orleans thing underneath,” he told The Washington Post. “It’s not conscious. It’s just part of our DNA.”
Growing up in the Treme neighborhood of the city, Trombone Shorty has brought the joy and heart from jazz to collaborations across genres with artists from Pharrell and Zac Brown to Foo Fighters and Ringo Starr.
“I don’t try to mimic others, but I’m a sponge and the influence comes out naturally, which I think is the most wonderful thing in music,” he told The Washington Post.
However, through his music, he is never far from home.
“Without New Orleans I wouldn’t be here,” he told CBS News in February. “And I really mean that with my whole heart.”
Through the Trombone Shorty Foundation, he wants to allow other young people to experience the same freedom and community.
“The foundation is just about inspiring the next generation and letting them know that … through music, it could be your passport to do whatever you want to do,” he told CBS News.
As for Staples, her career started in Chicago-area churches when her father, Roebuck “Pops” Staples, taught her and her siblings Cleotha, Pervis and Yvonne gospel harmonies with Mavis singing the bass parts.
“I didn’t like to rehearse,” she told The New Yorker in June 2022. “Pops said, ‘Mavis, your voice is a gift that God gave you. If you don’t use it, he’ll take it back.’ I was the first one in rehearsal after that.”
Beginning with acoustic gospel-folk, the Staple Singers’ version of “Uncloudy Day” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” helped them gain popularity.
Later, the group became best known for “I’ll Take You There,” which spent 15 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1972, and “Respect Yourself.” The group’s gospel styling in secular music came from their roots in the church and “message songs” of the early 1960s during the civil rights movement.
Others may have first gotten to know the Staple Singers from the 1976 film by Martin Scorsese documenting The Band’s final concert, “The Last Waltz,” when they sang “The Weight.”
She has since been honored with a bevy of accolades — such as inductions into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame — and awards, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
“I’ve kept my father’s legacy alive,” Staples said in The New Yorker. “Pops started this, and I’m not just going to squander it. I’m going to sing every time I get on the stage — I’m gonna sing with all my heart and all I can put out.”