Certainly one of the most topically influential musical families of the last half of this century, the Staple Singers have been called "God's greatest hitmakers." Steeped in the music of the church, this singing family from Mississippi crossed over into the pop mainstream without compromising their gospel roots. Behind the leadership of patriarch Roebuck "Pops" Staples, the Staple Singers have left an imprint of soulful voices, social activism and religious conviction across the decades since the release of "Uncloudy Day" in 1956.
The clan's musical signatures have been Pop Staples' gospel-based songwriting and bluesy guitar, Mavis Staples' rich, raspy vocals and the supple, ringing harmonies of Cleotha and Yvonne Staples. All three women are the daughters of Pops and Oceola Staples. With the rollicking R&B underpinnings of their music, the gospel-based Staples cracked the Top 40 eight times during the first half of the Seventies with number one songs like "I'll Take You There," on Stax Records, and "Let's Do It Again." Beyond these Top 40 watermarks, the Staple Singers have enjoyed a lengthy history that dates back to the late Forties.
It all began with Pops Staples, who was born on December 28, 1915, in Winona, Mississippi, where he grew up hearing both church and blues music. A contemporary of Charley Patton, Roebuck quickly became adept as a solo blues guitarist, entertaining at local dances and picnics. Gradually drawn to the church, by 1931 he was singing and playing guitar with a spiritual group based out of Drew, Mississippi, the Golden Trumpets. After relocating his family to Chicago in 1936, Pops became a member of the Windy City's Trumpet Jubilees. While Oceola Staples worked evenings, Roebuck kept the family occupied by teaching them songs, and this diversion became their lifelong occupation. By 1947, Pops Staples (as he had become known), along with two of his daughters, Cleotha and Mavis, and his one son, Pervis, sang together in front of a church audience, and the Staple Singers were born.
The Staples recorded in an older, deeply Southern spiritual style with Pops and Mavis sharing lead vocal chores, and most records underpinned by Pops' heavily reverbed guitar. In 1960 the Staples signed with Riverside and moved into the then-burgeoning folk boom and in 1968 they signed with Memphis-based Stax where their first two albums were produced by Steve Cropper and backed by Booker T and the MG's. In 1970 Pervis left the group for military service and was replaced by sister Yvonne, but the group didnít miss a beat as they continued to release hit records and perform throughout the next three decades. Now in his mid 80's, Pops Staples still leads one of the most famous musical families of the past half century with a vitality and busy schedule that continues to amaze audiences worldwide.