... that's what Mavis Staples said on stage at Seattle's Jazz Alley on March 6, 2010, and it's a quote from her father. Mavis spoke about the Staples meeting Martin Luther King in Montgomery, Al., for the first time and, in particular, about their song »Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?« More to the point, she quotes her father Roebuck having said to them after the meeting: »Listen, y'all! I like this man's message! ... And I think that if he can preach it, we can sing it.« Listen here what Mavis had to say ... I took it from the concert video posted over at Vimeo, and I very much thank the lady who shared it with us all! Thank you!
Mavis Staples Talks (March 6, 2010, Seattle):
You may also watch the full video here:
Now, Mavis is saying that her father penned the song »Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?« in 1960. Others have said (I don't know on what authority) that Roebuck was inspired to write the song when watching TV coverage of the forced integration of Arkansas's Central High School in Little Rock, back in 1957. I don't know whether this is correct or at what time the Staples first performed the song (they often played it at meet- ings when MLK was about to speak as he liked the tune so much ... Mavis explicitly refers to this in the above video). However, they first recorded it, according to Hayes-Laughton' Gospel Discography and for all we know, in spring 1966.
|The Staples (Ebony, Sept. 1965)|
(on stage at Philadelphia's Uptown)
|Ad from Billboard, May 7, 1966|
|Epic LP # BN 26196 (1966)|
The Staple Singers: »Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?« from the Epic LP »Why« (1966):
The Staples did many a political song, as you all know; David Nathan in a '95 Bill- board article listed them, justly, among the »[r]ecording artists who helped provide lyrical ammunition in the struggle for civil rights« (Feb. 4, '95, page 28). However, »Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?« is not normally included in this category. We find no mention of it in Taylor Branch's monumental three-volume history of the Civil Rights Movement, nor is the song treated in even more relevant books like Peter Doggett's There's a Riot Going On (2007) or Dorian Lynskey's 33 Revolutions per Minute. A History of Protest Songs (2010).
|Billboard, May 13, 1967|
In view of the success of their song, the Staple Singers in 1967 did a sensible thing (sensible, that is, in view of sales prospect): They re-released it on 45 (Epic # 10158A) in a version more appetible for the general, i.e. mainly the mainstream white market, skipping the politically charged prelude of Pops Roebuck, adding a horn section and in general giving the tune a more pop-oriented feel. They didn't change the lyrics, though. You can hear this 45-version of 1967 over at the Black Gold blogspot ... the song dented, for a week, the pop Hot 100 charts reaching # 95 at the beginning of June 1967 ... and it was, by now, more or less devoid of its original message.
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|Photo from the back cover of the Epic LP »Why«|
The Staple Singers: »King Of Kings« from the Epic LP »Why« (1966):