Dylan arrived in New York in January, 1961, when he was nineteen. As he was building his reputation on the folk scene in Greenwich Village, he ran into the Staple Singers at a music festival in the city, and an acquaintance introduced them. "Bob said, 'I know the Staple Singers!'" Staples recalled. "He said, 'Pops, he has a velvety voice, but Mavis gets rough sometimes.' And then he quoted that verse in 'Sit Down Servant.'"
"I didn't know no white boy knew our stuff!" Pops said.
As the sixties wore on, the Staple Singers broadened their repertoire. Pops, who was in equal measure idealistic and shrewd, saw a growing appetite, among white listeners as well as Black, for his message songs. He even had the group record some of Dylan's songs, including "Masters of War" and "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall." Dylan developed what Staples calls a case of "puppy love." On a cafeteria line before a performance, Dylan turned to Pops and said, "Pops, I want to marry Mavis."
"Well, don't you tell me, tell Mavis," Pops said.
Staples delights in talking about it: "He was a cute little boy, little blue eyes, curly hair. He and Pervis got to be tight. They'd sit out on the stoop, drink wine."
She describes their relationship as "courting," with some "smooching" here and there. But, when I asked if they almost got married, she smiled and said, "Nobody almost gets married."