We’d like to tell you about an exciting limited release EP from the Staples Jr. Singers that was recently included in an exhibition at the wonderful gallery GRAY (Chicago / New York). The show was called Citing Black Geographies, and it brought together artists examining notions of “Black space”—the topographies and structures that portend to Black cultural experiences. The music of the Staples Jr. Singers played around the clock in the gallery, alongside the work of Theaster Gates, Carrie Mae Weems, Amiri Baraka, and many others.
We’ll tell you more about that experience in a moment, but first we want to mention that the band is setting off on another tour this week. They’ll be visiting Spain, Ireland, Germany, France, and Switzerland, all for the very first time, and at the end of March playing the prestigious Big Ears festival in Knoxville, TN. If you’re anywhere else in the world, and want to follow along with their continental adventures, keep your eye on their Instagram.
Making an EP with GRAY
It began one chilly January afternoon in 2022 in West Point, Mississippi, when Edward, R.C., and Annie of the original Staples Jr. Singers gathered together with some of their younger family members at a house of worship called The Message Center to perform some of their early songs for the first time in nearly 50 years.
Several of the songs they played first appeared on their only full-length release from 1975, When Do We Get Paid. But none of them had been revisited in the time since—and never had they played them with this lineup, the new vanguard of musicians they now regularly perform with, made up of their children and grandchildren.
Performing these songs after so much time had passed imbued them with new meaning and significance. They became, to borrow from the terminology of the exhibition, a citation of past work, a reflection of all that had happened to the family, all that has changed in this world, and what hasn’t.
Together with GRAY, the Staples Jr. Singers made a 12-inch EP out of their performance that day, which they called “When Do We Get Paid (in Full),” after a transcendent version of the song they extended into a 20-minute trance-like ballad, with Edward and Annie taking time between choruses to share their memories of growing up in Mississippi. The album played for gallery visitors, and GRAY used the limited run almost as a kind of alternative catalog, or encapsulation, of the exhibition.
Here’s what GRAY said about the Staples Jr. Singers’ work: “Acknowledging the power of the Black church as an important Black space, the full version of “When Do We Get Paid” by the Staples Jr. Singers is a reprise of an earlier song by the same name that was produced and proliferated in the singing group’s home state of Mississippi. The record expresses the role of that particular site for this family of singers who have a committed relationship to the South. The sonic dimension fills the gallery just as gospel music fills the church, creating a communally felt experience of black space.”
If you want to learn more about Citing Black Geographies, here’s the curator Romi Crawford speaking about the show, and a wonderful review that Sampada Aranke wrote for Artforum.
Now we’ve made a limited version of this EP for you, too, because this music is too special and too significant in the history of this band not to share it with you.
Tell Heaven will be out on February 3rd, but you can pre-order it here, now.
If you use the discount code DONT TELL EVAN, you’ll get 15% off. That code will work for anything from the Staples Jr. Singers, including When Do We Get Paid and:
New Staples Jr. Singers Tees!
Following in the footsteps of the many great musicians who came before (and after) them, the Staples Jr. Singers are entering into the T-Shirt business (and, incidentally, the bumper sticker and poster business). These When Do We Get Paid tees were made with our friends at Arches, whose sustainable practices mean that you can feel good about supporting the band’s budding merchandise empire and the planet at the same time.
Once more for those in the back: 15% off with the discount code DONT TELL EVAN.