The Staple Singers
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|The Staple Singers|
Roebuck "Pops" Staples|
The Staple Singers were an American gospel, soul and R&B singing group. Roebuck "Pops" Staples (1914–2000), the patriarch of the family, formed the group with his children Cleotha (April 11, 1934 – February 21, 2013), Pervis (b. 1935), and Mavis (b. 1939). Yvonne (October 23, 1937 – April 10, 2018) replaced her brother when he was drafted into the U.S. Army, and again in 1970. They are best known for their 1970s hits "Respect Yourself", "I'll Take You There", "If You're Ready (Come Go with Me)", and "Let's Do It Again", which with one exception ("I'll Take You There") peaked on the Hot 100 within a week from Christmas Day. While the family name is Staples, the group used "Staple" commercially.
Roebuck moved from Mississippi to Chicago after his marriage, and worked in steel mills and meat packing plants while his family of four children grew up. The family began appearing in Chicago-area churches in 1948. Their first public singing appearance was at the Mount Zion Church, Chicago, where Roebuck's brother, the Rev. Chester Staples, was pastor. They signed their first professional contract in 1952. During their early career, they recorded in an acoustic gospel-folk style with various labels: United Records, Vee-Jay Records (their "Uncloudy Day" and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" were best sellers), Checker Records, Riverside Records, and then Epic Records in 1965. "Uncloudy Day" was an early influence on Bob Dylan, who said of it in 2015, "It was the most mysterious thing I'd ever heard... I'd think about them even at my school desk...Mavis looked to be about the same age as me in her picture (on the cover of "Uncloudy Day")...Her singing just knocked me out...And Mavis was a great singer—deep and mysterious. And even at the young age, I felt that life itself was a mystery."
The Staples move to Epic saw a run of albums, including the live in-church Freedom Highway album produced by Billy Sherrill; the title track of which was a civil rights movement protest song penned by Pops Staples. It was on Epic that the Staple Singers developed a style more accessible to mainstream audiences, with "Why (Am I Treated So Bad)" and "For What It's Worth" (Stephen Stills) in 1967. In 1968, the Staple Singers signed to Stax Records and released two albums with Steve Cropper—Soul Folk in Action and We'll Get Over, Pervis returning for them. After Cropper left Stax, Al Bell produced their recordings, conducting the rhythm sessions at the famed Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and cutting the overdubs himself at Memphis's Ardent Studios, moving in a more funk and soul direction.
The Staple Singers' first Stax hit was "Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom-Boom)" in early 1971. Their late 1971 recording of "Respect Yourself", written by Luther Ingram and Mack Rice, peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard R&B chart and No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. Both hits sold over one million copies and were each awarded a gold disc by the RIAA. The song's theme of self-empowerment had universal appeal, released in the period immediately following the intense American civil rights movement of the 1960s. In 1972, "I'll Take You There" topped both Billboard charts. In 1973, "If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)" reached No. 9 on the Hot 100 and No. 1 on the R&B chart.
After Stax's 1975 bankruptcy, The Staple Singers signed to Curtis Mayfield's label, Curtom Records, and released "Let's Do It Again", produced by Mayfield; the song became their second No. 1 pop hit in the U.S., and the album was also successful. In 1976, they collaborated with The Band for their film The Last Waltz, performing on the song "The Weight" (which The Staple Singers had previously covered on their first Stax album). However, they were not able to regain their momentum, releasing only occasional minor hits. The 1984 album Turning Point featured a cover of the Talking Heads' "Slippery People" (it reached the Top 5 on the Dance chart). In 1994, they again performed the song "The Weight" with country music artist Marty Stuart for MCA Nashville's Rhythm, Country and Blues compilation, somewhat re-establishing an audience. The song "Respect Yourself" was used by Spike Lee in the soundtrack to his movie Crooklyn, made in 1994.
In 1999, The Staple Singers was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Pops Staples died of complications from a concussion suffered in December 2000. In 2005, the group was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Cleotha Staples died in Chicago on February 21, 2013 at age 78, after suffering from Alzheimer's disease for over a decade. Mavis Staples has continued to carry on the family tradition and continues to add her vocal talents to both the projects of other artists and her own solo ventures. She appeared at Glastonbury in 2015, and her 2016 album Livin' on a High Note includes a simple acoustic version of a Martin Luther King sermon in the track "MLK Song". Yvonne Staples died on April 10, 2018 at age 80.
The 2015 documentary film Mavis! recounts the history of The Staple Singers and follows Mavis Staples' solo career after Pops Staples' death. Directed by Jessica Edwards, the film premiered at the 2015 South by Southwest Film Festival and was broadcast by HBO in February, 2016.
- Uncloudy Day (Vee Jay 1959)
- Swing Low Sweet Chariot (Vee Jay 1961)
- Gospel Program (Epic 1961)
- Hammers And Nails (Epic 1962)
- Great Day (Epic 1963)
- 25th Day Of December (Epic 1963)
- Spirituals (Epic 1965)
- Amen (Epic 1965)
- Freedom Highway (Epic 1965)
- Why (Epic 1966)
- This Little Light (Epic 1966)
- For What It's Worth (Epic 1967)
- Amen (Epic 1967)
- Pray On (Stax 1968)
- Soul Folk in Action (Stax 1968)
- We'll Get Over (Stax 1970)
|Year||Title||Peak chart positions||Record label|
|1971||The Staple Swingers||117||9||—||Stax|
|1972||Be Altitude: Respect Yourself||19||3||72|
|1973||Be What You Are||102||13||—|
|1974||City in the Sky||125||13||—|
|1975||Let's Do It Again||20||1||87||Curtom|
|1976||Pass It On||155||20||—||Warner Bros.|
|1978||Unlock Your Mind||—||34||—|
|1984||Turning Point||—||43||—||Private I|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart or were not released.|
|Year||Title||Peak chart positions|
|1967||"Why? (Am I Treated So Bad)"||95||—||—||—|
|"For What It's Worth"||66||—||—||—|
|1970||"Love Is Plentiful"||—||31||—||—|
|1971||"Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom Boom)"||27||6||60||—|
|"You've Got to Earn It"||97||11||—||—|
|1972||"I'll Take You There"||1||1||21||20|
|1973||"Oh La De Da"||33||4||—||—|
|"Be What You Are"||66||18||—||—|
|"If You're Ready (Come Go with Me)"||9||1||79||27|
|1974||"Touch a Hand, Make a Friend"||23||3||33||—|
|"City in the Sky"||79||4||—||—|
|"My Main Man"||76||18||—||—|
|1975||"Let's Do It Again"||1||1||7||—|
|"Love Me, Love Me, Love Me"||—||11||—||—|
|1977||"Sweeter Than the Sweet"||—||52||—||—|
|"See a Little Further (Than My Bed)"||—||77||—||—|
|1978||"I Honestly Love You"||—||68||—||—|
|"Unlock Your Mind"||—||16||—||—|
|1984||"H-A-T-E (Don't Live Here Anymore)"||—||46||—||—|
|"This Is Our Night"||—||50||—||—|
|1985||"Are You Ready?"||—||39||—||—|
|"Nobody Can Make It on Their Own"||—||89||—||—|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart or were not released.|
- Cleotha Staples Obituary
- Stack, Liam (11 April 2018). "Yvonne Staples, Member and Manager of the Staple Singers, Dies at 80". The New York Times. p. A25. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
- O'Donnell, Maureen. "Yvonne Staples of the Staples Singers dies at 80". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
- Gary Kramer, Liner notes to Riverside l.p. Hammer and Nails, 1962.
- H.R.R. Liner notes to original Vee Jay l.p. Uncloudy Day, 1959.
- Preiser, David (2002). Uncloudy Day [CD liner notes]. New York: Koch Jazz.
- Interview with Bob Dylan. i newspaper (London) Feb 3rd 2015
- Liner notes to Stax LPs Soul Folk in Action, 1968 and We'll Get Over, 1969
- Rob Bowman Stax: 50th Anniversary Celebration (Beverly Hills) 2007, and see also Rob Bowman Soulsville USA: The Story of Stax Records there cited
- Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 303. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
- Billboard Publications Inc. Billboard R&B/Soul and Billboard Hot 100 charts, 10.9.1971 and 4.1.1972, cited by Rob Bowman, above
- Obituaries, The New York Times 24 February 2013; The Guardian newspaper (London), 24 February 2013
- The Times newspaper, (London) 19 February 2016
- "Staple Singers". Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Retrieved 5 April 2018.
- The Encyclopedia of Popular Music - Page 3105 0857125958 Colin Larkin - 2011
- "US Charts > Staple Singers". Billboard. Retrieved 2012-11-18.
- "CAN Charts > Staple Singers". RPM. Retrieved 2012-11-18.
- Daffyd Rees, Barry Lazell & Roger Osborne 40 Years of New Musical Express Charts (London) 1992. Entries for June 17th 1972 & July 6th 1974.