The Staple Singers

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The Staple Singers
Staple Singers on Soul Train.jpg
The Staple Singers with Soul Train host Don Cornelius in 1974.
Background information
Origin Chicago, Illinois, United States
Years active 1948–1994
Associated acts
Past members

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 (1934–2013), Pervis (b. 1935), and Mavis (b. 1939). Yvonne (b. 1936) 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 surname is "Staples", the group used the singular form for its name, "The Staple Singers".


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.[1] 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.[2] They signed their first professional contract in 1952.[3] 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"[4]

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 CropperSoul Folk in Action and We'll Get Over, Pervis returning for these.[5] After Steve 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' Ardent Studios,[6] moving in a more funk and soul direction.

The 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 sold over one million copies, and were each awarded a gold disc by the RIAA.[7] 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.[8] In 1973 "If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)" reached No. 9 Hot 100 and No. 1 on the R&B chart.

After Stax's 1975 bankruptcy, the foursome 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 US 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. Their 1984 album Turning Point featured their final Top 40 hit, a cover of Talking Heads' "Slippery People" (which also 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 group 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. 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. Cleotha Staples died in Chicago on February 21, 2013, after suffering from Alzheimer's disease for over a decade.[9]


Charted albums[edit]

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.
1977 Family Tree 58
1978 Unlock Your Mind 34
1984 Turning Point 43 Private I
"—" denotes releases that did not chart or were not released.

Charted singles[edit]

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
"Respect Yourself" 12 2 17
1972 "I'll Take You There" 1 1 21 20
"This World" 38 6 85
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
1976 "New Orleans" 70 4 84
"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
1979 "Chica Boom" 82
1984 "H-A-T-E (Don't Live Here Anymore)" 46
"Slippery People" 109 22 -
"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.


  1. ^ Gary Kramer, Liner notes to Riverside l.p. 'Hammer and Nails' 1962
  2. ^ H.R.R. Liner notes to original Vee Jay l.p. "Uncloudy Day" 1959
  3. ^ Preiser, David (2002). Uncloudy Day [CD liner notes]. New York:Koch Jazz.
  4. ^ Interview with Bob Dylan."i" newspaper (London) Feb 3rd 2015
  5. ^ Liner notes to Stax LPs "Soul Folk in Action1968 & "We'll Get Over" 1969
  6. ^ Rob Bowman Stax: 50th Anniversary Celebration (Beverly Hills) 2007, and see also Rob Bowman Soulsville USA: The Story of Stax Records there cited
  7. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 303. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. 
  8. ^ Billboard Publications Inc. Billboard R&B/Soul and Billboard Hot 100 charts, 10.9.1971 and 4.1.1972, cited by Rob Bowman, above
  9. ^ Obituaries, New York Times 24th Feb 2013, Guardian newspaper,(London) 24th Feb 2013
  10. ^ a b c d "US Charts > Staple Singers". Billboard. Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  11. ^ a b "CAN Charts > Staple Singers". RPM. Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  12. ^ Daffyd Rees, Barry Lazell & Roger Osborne 40 Years of New Musical Express Charts (London) 1992. Entries for June 17th 1972 & July 6th 1974.

External links[edit]