Never Too Late, Never Too Old

The one and only Mavis Staples.

I read magazine stories last week about two women that were positively inspiring.
I thought I’d share.
The first story was actually an interview with Mavis Staples, one of the world’s truly great singers and proof positive that there is indeed a higher power.
That how good she is.
I’ve been a fan since I was 12, when my buddies Scott and Howie I and went to the Smith Haven Mall to see “The Last Waltz”, probably the greatest concert film ever made.
In that Scorsese classic, The Staples Singers perform the definitive version of The Band’s Classic song “The Weight.”
Watching Mavis trade lines with the equally amazing Levon Helm hooked me for life.

So I discovered the rest of the Staples Singers catalog—songs like Respect Yourself and Do it Again.  They are timeless classics.
So it was inspiring to see an interview in Time magazine to mark the release of Mavis Staples’ new album “If All I Was Was Black.”
It’s her 15th album as a solo artist. She’s 80.
So why keep keeping on?

In Mavis’ words:

“I’ve been doing this since 1960. When we met Dr. King in church, my father told us that if he can preach it, we can sing it. We’ve been singing the message songs ever since. Every year people tell me, ‘Mavis, my goodness, when are you going to retire?’ I’m almost 80 years old. But I’m not ready to retire. This is what G-d wants me to do. My voice is as strong as ever.”
Isn’t that so cool?
Why stop just because you reach a certain birthday?

The second story I read was both sad and inspiring.
Sharon Jones, another incredible soul singer, was a great talent who got discovered late in life.

She played with a band called the Dap Kings and found fame after years of relative obscurity.
Sadly, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died last year at the age of 60.

While she did live long enough to enjoy a Grammy nomination and a critically acclaimed documentary on her career, she is not around to see the release of her last album “Soul of a Woman” which was just released.

The review I read was glowing.
Always a supreme talent, she was reaching her artistic peak late in life—proof that greatness can be achieved in middle age and beyond.
That’s something that most of us know intellectually but it’s still good to see and feel it.
As Mavis Staples might say: You’ve got to earn it. Yes, you do. But it’s possible.

In our community, we get to see people of all ages succeeding in a range of endeavors.

I have long marveled at the energy and vitality of Delray’s police volunteers—many of whom work and serve well into their 80s and 90s. They are a treasured resource. So is another group in town.

On occasion, I get invited to have breakfast with a group known as “The Elders”. They meet at Donnie’s on 5th Avenue to discuss the issues of the day. It’s an honor and a privilege to be included and so I never turn down an invitation. The conversation is always interesting, deep, passionate, humorous, serious and wide ranging. My words can never describe the magic and depth at that table, which also includes some young up and comers as it should. Because it’s important for wisdom to be passed down, for stories to be shared, for insights to be revealed. Those stories, those insights and that wisdom was earned–a lot of times the hard way through the hard knocks of life and time.

As I get older, I find myself in an interesting position. To some up and comers in the community, folks my age (50 somethings) are the elders. Yet, the people that I know that are around my age are still learning and seeking insights from people of all ages. There’s a lot you can learn sitting with those who have navigated decades of life and there is much to learn from those who are young and provide fresh perspective.

It’s a cool time of life.

I have learned to be wary of those who feel they know it all–because none of us do. So as I scan the community looking for the next generation of leaders I look for those who would find value in meeting with and learning from other people. If they don’t seem open-minded or willing to learn from others, I have learned that they won’t succeed. They can’t succeed. You can’t live or lead in a vacuum. You can’t learn if you think you have all the answers.

It’s just that simple….


  1. John Fitzpatrick says

    Jeff, I think we touched on this over coffee! Your blog is spot on! Loved reading about Mavis. “I’ll Take You There” & “Do It Again” are both on the 32east soundtrack! Thanks for sharing these sentiments!

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.