MAVIS STAPLES and DR. JOHN & THE NIGHT TRIPPERS as part of the TORONTO JAZZ FESTIVAL at Nathan Phillips Square, Saturday (June 22), 8 pm. $56.50. TM. See listing.
On I Like The Things About Me, the single from her new album, One True Vine (Anti), Mavis Staples sings about coming to love her defining African-American features - her thick hair and full lips.
That message is in step with Staples's social activist history - as one of the Staple Singers, she became a leading voice of 1960s civil rights - and it's also a sentiment that dawns on women of a certain age. But a woman wasn't behind the tune.
"My father wrote that song. Pops wrote that," says Staples over the phone from her Chicago home. Roebuck "Pops" Staples was the sisters' music teacher, manager and accompanist, and it's essential for Staples to honour his memory.
"I want to keep his legacy alive. He started it, so I can't leave him out. I feel so good singing songs that I sang with my father."
Pops's death in 2000 pushed Staples to relaunch her solo career in earnest. ("Mavis, you've got to continue singing - you know Pops would want you to sing!" her sister told her when she was struggling with grief.)
And her bluesy lead single seems appropriate, since famed Chicago indie blues label Alligator Records was the first to sign her after she cobbled together an album with her own money.
At 73, Staples may be past that certain age of self-acceptance but is enthusiastic about continuing to work.
One True Vine is her fifth album since her re-emergence in 2004 and her second collaboration with producer, fellow Chicagoan and Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy.
"If you don't make a record, the people won't know you're still here," she says. "And the promoters won't call. I wouldn't be coming to the Toronto Jazz Festival if I weren't still recording."
Performing is now more special than ever. "I can't stay home too long. I'm ready to go. I feel so blessed that I still have my voice; I'm still here, so why not sing?" she asks.
"I never sang for a Grammy, for money, for fame. That's my whole purpose for singing: for people, for the fans."