The Staple Singers Biography

This well-known US family gospel group was formed in 1951 by Pops Staples (Roebuck Staples, 28 December 1914, Winona, Mississippi, USA, d. 19 December 2000, Dolton, Illinois, USA) and four of his children, Mavis Staples (b. 10 July 1939, Chicago, Illinois, USA), Cleotha Staples and Pervis Staples, who was later replaced by Yvonne Staples. The group fused an original presentation of sacred music, offsetting Mavis Staples’ striking voice against her father’s lighter tenor, rather than follow the accustomed ‘jubilee’ or ‘quartet’ formations, prevalent in the genre. Pops’ striking guitar work, reminiscent of delta-blues, added to their inherent individuality. Singles such as ‘Uncloudy Day’, ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken’ and ‘I’m Coming Home’, proved especially popular, while an original song, ‘This May Be The Last Time’, provided the inspiration for the Rolling Stones’ hit ‘The Last Time’.

During the early half of the 60s, the group tried to broaden its scope. Two singles produced by Larry Williams, ‘Why (Am I Treated So Bad)’ and ‘For What It’s Worth’, a Stephen Stills composition, anticipated the direction the Staples would take on signing with Stax Records in 1967. Here they began recording material contributed by the label’s established songwriters, including Homer Banks and Bettye Crutcher, which embraced a moral focus, rather than a specifically religious one. Reduced to a quartet following the departure of Pervis, a bubbling version of Bobby Bloom’s ‘Heavy Makes You Happy’ (1970) gave the group their first R&B hit. This new-found appeal flourished with ‘Respect Yourself’ (1971) and ‘I’ll Take You There’ (1972 - a US pop number 1), both of which expressed the group’s growing confidence. Their popularity was confirmed with ‘If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)’ (1973), ‘City In The Sky’ (1974), and by appearances in two movies, Wattstax and Soul To Soul.

The Staple Singers later moved to the Curtom label where they had an immediate success with two songs from a Curtis Mayfield -penned film soundtrack, ‘Let’s Do It Again’ (another US pop number 1) and ‘New Orleans’. These recordings were the group’s last major hits although a series of minor R&B chart places between 1984 and 1985 continued their long-established ability to be both populist and inspirational. The group was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1999. Pops Staples passed away the following December.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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