Two of country’s most exciting voices met up with one of soul and gospel’s all-time greats at the 52nd CMA Awards, as Chris Stapleton was joined by Maren Morris, Mavis Staples and Marty Stuart for an uplifting performance that connected country’s present with pop music history.
Stapleton, the leading nominee entering the evening and a winner of three awards, started the performance with his rendition of Homer Banks and Lester Snell’s “Friendship,” included on 2017’s From A Room: Volume 2. The song had previously been recorded by Staple Singers patriarch Pops Staples and featured on the posthumous 2015 album Don’t Lose This, overseen by daughter Mavis along with Wilco chief Jeff Tweedy. Stapleton, Morris and Staples each got to handle one verse, with Staples in particular digging in with a bluesy growl before all joined together for chorus harmonies with the help of Stapleton’s wife Morgane.
For the big finish, the unlikely collaborators shifted to the indomitable groove of the Staple Singers’ rocksteady-influenced 1972 classic “I’ll Take You There,” recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and later sampled heavily for Salt-N-Pepa’s topical 1991 hit “Let’s Talk About Sex.” Stapleton also led off the CMA Awards performance, which shifted to a freewheeling vocal and instrumental jam featuring Stuart and Stapleton producer Dave Cobb that got the crowd in Bridgestone Arena on its feet. Stuart and Staples have been friends and occasional collaborators over the years, as both are celebrated by a diverse group of performers from Americana, country and beyond.
Taken as a whole, the performance was meant as a soothing balm after a horrifying few weeks that included one mass shooting at a California country bar and another at a Pittsburgh synagogue. “Friendship” urges compassion and empathy, offering reassurance that some of us are actually looking out for one another in the midst of the chaos. And “I’ll Take You There,” penned by Stax Records chief Al Bell as the Civil Rights Movement began an optimistic new chapter, still dares to dream about a harmonious, post-racial world where “ain’t nobody worried.”
Stapleton is currently on a touring break, but he’ll return in 2019 with a few shows, including one supporting George Strait at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium on March 30th. Staples, meanwhile, just announced the album Live in London, due out via Anti Records on February 8th.
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