It’s a tough choice, but I think the moment above may be one of my favorites from the 1978 Martin Scorsese-filmed farewell concert for The Band, The Last Waltz. In this clip from the film, The Band performs one of their signature songs, “The Weight,” with soul and gospel legends The Staples Singers. Staples patriarch and guitarist Roebuck sings some lead vocals, as does, of course, the group’s star Mavis. “As the song finishes up,” writes Elon Green at The New Yorker, “Mavis, closest to the camera, throws her head back, leans toward the mic, and says, almost inaudibly, ‘Beautiful.’” It’s a beautiful moment, for sure, and a great story that Mavis tells in full on Green’s “Culture Desk” post (excerpt below).
It was so beautiful to me. I was surprised that was caught on tape, you know, because I thought I was whispering. It wasn’t rehearsed to go like that. It was just a feeling that brought that on. The excitement of being with our friends—Levon and Danko and those guys were such good friends of ours—to be singing with them, and knowing that this is going to be on the big screen, the silver screen, it was just a moment in time for me. You could probably, had you been there, you would have heard my heart pounding.
Despite its roots in American country and Appalachian folk, like so much of The Band’s music—and so much Americana—“The Weight” lends itself equally to soul and R&B interpretations. The song’s been covered by The Supremes and The Temptations (singing together), Aretha Franklin recorded a funky, soulful version, and it’s long been a part of Mavis Staples’ live set. “The Weight” is also one of those great songs that brings black and white artists together; it’s testament to The Band’s keen appreciation for American roots music (which they learned by heart as backing band for rockabilly star Ronnie Hawkins and later Bob Dylan). Below, see Wilco, Nick Lowe, and Mavis Staples rehearse the song backstage at the Civic Opera House in Chicago in 2011.
via The New Yorker
Watch The Band Play “The Weight,” “Up On Cripple Creek” and More in Rare 1970 Concert Footage
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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness
I watched. I have a careful ear. Those girls in the background give the life to this song, and video. Honor them.
This is just superb!
Right on! Just started saw Mavis…so sweet and infectious…still rocking at 79!