Candi Staton Stops At Nothing To Create

Feb 7, 2019
Originally published on February 7, 2019 11:51 pm

Candi Staton released her 30th studio album, Unstoppable, in August 2018. True to the album's name, the four-time Grammy nominee and Christian Music Hall of Famer has shown that her life will slow down at nothing. With a career spanning gospel, disco, R&B and soul, the legendary singer, now in her 70s, has spoken out about surviving sexual and spousal abuse, her breast cancer diagnosis and most importantly, how she's never stopped creating even in the face of adversity.

"This is the worst battle I have ever had to fight," Staton says of her battle with cancer. "Fighting a human is one thing. Fighting something you can't see is another one. I had to pray it through. I had to stand on hope."

Staton spoke with NPR host Ari Shapiro about the inspiration behind her latest music, where she's found strength in her struggle with cancer and her message to women everywhere. Hear the radio version at the audio link and read on for highlights.


Interview Highlights

On dealing with sexual and spousal abuse

I try to tell women, I try to give them suggestions to know when to go, when to stay and what not to take. When you begin a new relationship there may be many red flags we just don't pay any attention to. And we think we can always change someone. The thing with women is we always have that motherly instinct, "Oh, he'll get better with me. That was just how he treated her." It is not. That's just how he is. He's not going to treat you any better.

On women experiencing abuse in the music industry

We have more people understanding us. We're not the underdogs anymore. Look at Congress — women are coming out of woodwork now and they're letting their voices be heard. Back in the day, women couldn't speak out, they they couldn't talk. Check this out: We had to do songs like "Baby please don't leave me. I'm on your pant leg, dragging you as you drag me to the door. ... I'm just your slave."

Those are the kind of songs the DJs would play, until my friend, Gloria Gaynor, came out with "I Will Survive" and that seemed to hit the glass ceiling and we all followed suit. "Young Hearts Run Free" came after that and a whole bunch of others. So we were getting there to that place where we can say, "We're not gonna be silent anymore. You're not gonna treat us like this anymore."

On maintaining her career with a cancer diagnosis

I didn't stop. I didn't even tell anybody. I kept it a secret. I didn't want to tell the band. I didn't want them to feel sorry for me. Because they're human, they would look at me as though, you know, "Poor Candi." I didn't want that. I wanted that energy on that stage. I wanted that confidence on that stage. I wanted that boldness on that stage. I wanted it to go out there and just rock the house.

Only two people knew about it and that was my oldest song who played bass and my daughter. And at the end of the tour, I told my tow background singers. After that, I started treatment.

YouTube

On her favorite song on the album, "Confidence"

I'm not afraid of anything. I've done everything that there is to do. I've gone everywhere. I've been all over the country, all over the world. I've gone on stages. I can talk to presidents. I can talk to anyone. I'm not intimidated, so I know now that I have the confidence that I wish I had when I was 20.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

For more than 60 years, Candi Staton has poured her struggles into her music. Now she's speaking more openly about those struggles than ever before - domestic abuse, cancer and more.

CANDI STATON: So many people don't have that voice now. That voice had been silenced. And so it's up to us to have the voice speak out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAND UP")

STATON: (Singing) Stand up, and be counted. Stand up for what you believe.

SHAPIRO: That's a song from her latest album, "Unstoppable." Candi Staton and joined us to talk about that project and to look back on the long arc of her life. She was born Canzetta Maria Staton in segregated Alabama in 1940. In the 1950s, she started singing with a group called the Jewell Gospel Trio.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOO LATE")

JEWELL GOSPEL TRIO: (Singing) Oh, too late, too late, too late, too late.

SHAPIRO: Eventually she made it big on her own terms as a soul singer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAND BY YOUR MAN")

STATON: (Singing) Stand by your man. Give him two arms to cling to and something warm to come to when nights are cold and lonely.

SHAPIRO: Candi Staton later revealed that she was in an abusive marriage with the same man who was championing her career as a musician. It was one in a string of toxic marriages, and she says she shared her stories to help other women suffering from abuse.

STATON: You got to find out character first. He may be cute, and he may be swaggy (ph) and all that good stuff, but you got to find out. You got to go deeper than that. You got to see what is inside of him before you make a commitment, and sometimes we don't do that.

SHAPIRO: Over the decades, Candi Staton returned to her gospel roots, and she recorded hits in club music and disco.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DESTINY")

STATON: (Singing) Destiny, oh, destiny - can't go over. You can't go under. You've got to come in at the door.

SHAPIRO: Candi Staton is now 78 years old. And when we sat down to talk, I asked her whether she thinks young women in the music industry today can be more vocal than she was when she was starting out.

STATON: I think so. I think we have more going for us now. We have more people understanding us. We're not the underdogs anymore. We've got - look at Congress. Women are coming out of woodworks now, and they're letting their voices be heard. Back in the day, women couldn't speak out. Check this out. We couldn't even do songs. We had to do songs like, baby, please don't leave me. Drag me - I'm on your pant leg dragging you as you drag me to the door. I'm just your slave.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M JUST A PRISONER (OF YOUR GOOD LOVIN')")

STATON: (Singing) I'm just a prisoner for your good loving. I'm just a slave, bound and chained.

Those were the kind of songs the DJs would play until, you know, my friend Gloria Gaynor came on with "I Will Survive," and that seems to hit the glass ceiling, and we all followed suit. "Young Hearts Run Free" came after that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOUNG HEARTS RUN FREE")

STATON: (Singing) It's high time now, just one crack at life. Who wants to live in trouble and strife? My mind must be free to learn all I can about me.

So we were getting there. We were getting there to that place where we say, we're not going to be silent anymore; you're not going to treat us like this anymore.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOUNG HEARTS RUN FREE")

STATON: (Singing) Oh, young hearts, to yourself be true. Don't be no fool when love really don't love you.

SHAPIRO: You've been through so much in your life. Did it take until now for you to be able to say, I don't need to cower; I can stand up; I have a right to speak my mind?

STATON: Yeah. I was always shy. I didn't want to, you know, do any - I'm surprised at where I came, where I am today because I used to take my hands and put them over my face when somebody would tell me to sing. And they had a hard time getting me up there. But once I got up there, I handled it. And so I knew then that I had something that was extraordinary. So as time goes on, I got less and less timid.

SHAPIRO: Is there a song on this new record that you would say to new fans, listen to this first; this is who I am now?

STATON: It would be cut one, "Confidence."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CONFIDENCE")

STATON: (Singing) I won't let you drag me down. Got things to do. Don't have time.

I'm not afraid of anything. I've done everything that there is to do. I've gone everywhere. I've been all over the country, all over the world. I've gone on stages. I can talk to presidents. I can talk to anyone. I'm not intimidated.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CONFIDENCE")

STATON: (Singing) 'Cause I walk like it. I talk like it. I move like it. I act like it. I'm a woman. I got confidence. I'm unstoppable.

SHAPIRO: And that confidence has been put to the test again in the last few months.

STATON: Yes, it has.

SHAPIRO: You disclosed late last year that you had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

STATON: Yes.

SHAPIRO: Am I correct that after you were diagnosed, you didn't cancel a single tour date? You did interviews about the album.

STATON: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: You just kept on going.

STATON: I didn't stop. I didn't even tell anybody. I kept it a secret. I didn't want to tell the band. I didn't want them to feel sorry for me because they are - they're human. Then they would look at me as though - poor Candi. I didn't want that. I wanted that energy on that stage. I wanted that confidence on that stage. I wanted us to go out there and just drop the house.

Only two people knew about it, and that was my oldest son, who played bass, and my daughter. She knew about it. And at the end of the tour, I told my two background singers. And after that, I started treatment. This was the worst battle I have ever had to fight. I had to pray it through. I had to stand on hope and prayers. But I'm determined that this thing is not going to beat me.

SHAPIRO: When you need the kind of strength that you're describing, is there one of these songs that you reach for?

STATON: Oh, yeah. You know what I've been singing a lot?

SHAPIRO: What's that?

STATON: "You Got The Love." Sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up in the air. I know I can count on you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU GOT THE LOVE (NEW VOYAGER RADIO EDIT)")

STATON: (Singing) I know I can count on you. Sometimes I feel like saying, Lord, I just don't care. But you've got the love I need to see me through.

That's been my theme the whole time.

SHAPIRO: Candi Staton, it's a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you so much.

STATON: You're so welcome. Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU GOT THE LOVE (NEW VOYAGER RADIO EDIT)")

STATON: (Singing) Now and then I feel like life is just too much, but you got the love I need to see me through.

SHAPIRO: That is soul, disco and gospel singer Candi Staton. Her latest album is called "Unstoppable." She is currently recovering from a surgery to remove the last of her cancer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.