Mavis Staples and The Band Sing “The Weight” In Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz (1978)

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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch The Band Play “The Weight,” “Up On Crip­ple Creek” and More in Rare 1970 Con­cert Footage

Bob Dylan Plays First Live Per­for­mance of “Hur­ri­cane,” His Song Defend­ing Rubin “Hur­ri­cane” Carter (RIP) in 1975

The Queen of Soul Con­quers Europe: Aretha Franklin in Ams­ter­dam, 1968

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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