Cleotha Staples, one of the founding members of The Staple Singers, has died. Staples had been suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease for the past 12 years. She was 78.
Staples co-founded The Staple Singers with sisters Mavis and Yvonne, brother Pervis, and father Roebuck “Pops” Staples in Chicago in 1952. Over the years the group has sold more than 10 million records and landed classic Stax hits like “Respect Yourself,” “I’ll Take You There,” and “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me).”
Cleotha (“Cleedi” to her family) sang the high parts in the group’s songs, and also designed the girls’ stage clothes. Mavis and “Pops” usually sang lead, though Cleedi is right out in front on tracks like 1969's “It’s Too Late.”
The group found success in part for their “down-home” sound that appealed to the masses of African-Americans that moved from the South to northern cities during the first half of the 20th century. “Pops” Staples modeled some of the rhythms off songs his family had sung while he was growing up in Mississippi.
The Staple Singers bridged the gap between gospel and soul, eventually adding note of folk as that increasingly became the style. In the late '60s and early '70s, they captured the spirit of the civil rights era with uplifting anthems like “Respect Yourself." Their message of empowerment was such that Martin Luther King Jr. (a friend of "Pops") asked them to perform at rallies.
In 1976, the group memorably collaborated with The Band on “The Weight” for the film The Last Waltz—a song they later successfully reprised with country singer Marty Stuart in 1994. Their last Top 40 single was a 1984 cover of Talking Heads’ “Slippery People.”
The Staple Singers were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1999 and received lifetime achievement awards at the Grammys in 2005. Mavis Staples continues to perform as a successful solo artist.