The names Mavis, Cleotha, Pervis, Yvonne, and “Pops” are familiar to those who know music history. The Staple Singers began as a Gospel group in 1948. Yvonne didn’t join her siblings until 1971. The group dynamics shifted slightly when Pervis left the band for military service. Still, the remaining voices created a full, often soul-stirring sound that made them integral to music history.
According to the New York Times, Yvonne Staples succumbed to colon cancer. She was 80 years old.
The Staple Singers and music history
Any reputable text on American contemporary music will include a section or more on the Staples Singers. The link between the various genres of music – – rock ‘n’ roll, soul, and Gospel are somewhat intertwined and they come together in the songs of the Staple Singers.
While some performers have courted controversy when they move from Gospel to secular music or vice versa, the Staple Singers seemed to have risen above most of the criticism. According to the New York Times, Christian music “traditionalists” rejected the group’s sound. However, the group continued to win over audiences in pop, folk and soul music realms.
To describe their sound as soulful is an understatement. They created a soundscape for one of America’s most important movements – – the Civil Rights movement with Martin Luther King Jr.
The Staple Singers managed to blend pop and Gospel to make soul music like no one had ever heard before. Even now, 70 years after the group’s inception and almost 50 years since their first hit, the music that the family group created is still as remarkable as it ever was.
The Staple Singers and their soundscape
The backbone of the soundscape that backs Staple Singers’ music is the blues-oriented guitar played by the singers’ father, Roebuck. Roebuck became known as “Pops” and his style of guitar playing remained a constant, even as other musicians were added. The sound is an understated, yet driving soul pulse that perfectly punctuates every song’s lyrics.
The singing is what pulls most listeners into the sounds created by the Staple Singers. The multi-part harmonies are soothing and evoke faith and confidence.
For her part, Yvonne was a backup singer while her sister Mavis most often sang lead. In some media outlets, Yvonne’s deep voice is described as “baritone.” Which is quite deep for male singers, but for women, it is less common, as even singing tenor can be a stretch for most female singers.
While the Staple Singers had a number of hits, they are best known for the early-and-mid-1970s classics, “Respect Yourself” reached No. 2 on Billboard in 1971; that was followed by “I’ll Take You There” which went to No. 1 in 1972, and “Let’s Do It Again” made it to No. 1 in 1975.
The group’s first ever hit was “Uncloudy Day, ” a Gospel song. That was in 1957. According to numerous sources, the early success showed the performers that they had something special. Pops quit his job as a steel mill worker, and after Mavis finished high school, the family took their act on the road and became favorites as they got involved with Civil Rights and folk music movements.
Sadly, only two of the Staple Singers remain: Yvonne is survived by Pervis and Mavis. Cleotha passed away in 2013, and Pops died in 2000. The group was inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame in 1999.