Roebuck “Pops” Staples and his three singing daughters – Mavis, Yvonne, and Cleo-have come a long way from the main part of Mississippi. From their gospel beginnings through the folk-rock era to their soul music peak, the Staple Singers have traveled a long, artistically-rich road into the mainstream of American music.
Singing in a Southern quartet style usually performed by all-male, adult groups, the Staple Singers began appearing at local churches in 1948. Mavis, then age seven, handled the bass parts.
When the Staples joined Stax in 1968, they were working alongside major rock acts at places like the Fillmore West and East. The first two Stax albums, produced by Steve Cropper, continued in the folk vein, but their third, The Staple Swingers, offered a bold new direction of hip soul “message” songs. It was produced in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, by Al Bell, as was their next, Be Altitude: Respect Your-self.
Be Altitude broke the Staple Singers wide open. “Respect Yourself,” written by Mack Rice and Luther Ingram, reached the Number Two position on Billboard’s soul chart, while Al Bell’s “I’ll Take You There,” with its infectious reggae-like beat, hit Number One soul and pop.
There were more hits at Stax-“Oh La De Da,” “If You’re Ready (Come Go with Me),” and “Touch a Hand, Make a Friend,” before they moved on to Warner Bros., where they scored with Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack to Let’s Do It Again. Changing their name to “The Staples” and adopting a more secular image, the group cut albums produced by fellow Chicagoans Curtis Mayfield and Eugene Record.
Pops Staples died December 19, 2000.