Chicago, Illinois, USA: Yvonne Staples the background vocalist whose baritone propelled the Staples Singers to the top of music charts and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has died on April 10th of colon cancer at her home in South Shore, Chicago at age 80 – as confirmed by by family friend Bill Carpenter.
Yvonne Staples,also served as the business manager for her family’s musical group the Staple Singers gospel group which have been called “God’s greatest hitmakers.”
The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. In 2005 they received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys. They were also the recipients of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation’s Pioneer Award.
The Staple Singers were formed in 1948 by Roebuck “Pops” Staples, who was joined by his children Pervis, Mavis and Cleotha. Their style was a blend of gospel, soul and pop, and the group had big hits with “Respect Yourself,” “Let’s Do It Again” and “I’ll Take You There.”
Yvonne joined the group in 1971 when Pervis left for military service.
When sister Mavis embarked on a solo career during the 1980s, Yvonne was a backup singer for her, too.
Steeped in the music of the church, this singing family -Roebuck Staples, Cleotha Staples, Mavis Staples, Pervis Staples, Yvonne Staples – from Mississippi crossed into the pop mainstream without compromising their gospel roots. All three women are the daughters of Pops and Oceola Staples. Pops Staples died in 2000 as a result of a concussion, and Cleotha Staples died in 2013 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for about a decade. Until 1969, son Pervis also belonged to the group, which was configured as a quartet for more than half a century, with Pops and Mavis joined by Cleotha, Yvonne and/or Pervis.
The gospel-based Staples cracked the Top 40 eight times from 1971 to 1975. Two singles reached Number One: the funky, inspirational “I’ll Take You There,” which was the highlight of their tenure on Stax Records, and “Let’s Do It Again,” a film-soundtrack song recorded for Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label. Beyond these watermarks, the Staple Singers have enjoyed a lengthy history that dates back to the late Forties.
The Staples began singing in churches around the upper Midwest. They became regulars on a Sunday radio show and cut their first single, “These Are They”/”Faith and Grace,” for Pops’ label Royal Records in 1953.
Another record for a local label (“Won’t You Sit Down,” on United) led to a contract with the Chicago-based Vee-Jay Records. The Staple Singers stayed at Vee-Jay from 1956 to 1962, a tenure that included their breakthrough single, “Uncloudy Day.”
Moving to the New York-based Riverside label, the Staple Singers adopted a more folk-oriented sound, recording contemporary, message-oriented songs by the likes of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Their late-Sixties tenure on Epic Records found them moving further in this direction, as the Staples recorded protest songs (Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”) and inspirational material (“Marching Up Jesus’ Highway”) in a folk-gospel style.
In 1968 the Staple Singers signed with the Memphis-based Stax label. Their first two albums for Stax, Soul Folk in Action (1968) and We’ll Get Over (1970), were produced by Steve Cropper and featured Booker T. and the MG’s as the back-up band. Those albums featured such “message” songs as “Long Walk to D.C.” and “When Will We Be Paid.” Then in 1970 Pervis Staples left the group, and he was replaced by his sister Yvonne. More significantly, Al Bell became the group’s producer, and the Staple Singers’ message-oriented material moved to a funkier setting.
The Staple Singers’ run of Top 40 hits began in 1971 with “Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom Boom).” That song reached Number Twenty-Seven on the pop chart and Number Six on the R&B chart. The group’s next two singles for Stax—“Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There”—both went gold. “Respect Yourself” reached Number Twelve on the pop chart and Number Two on the R&B chart. A new height was reached when “I’ll Take You There” topped both the pop and R&B charts.
After the demise of Stax, the Staples moved to Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label in 1974. The label change resulted in the Staple Singers’ second Number One hit, “Let’s Do It Again,” a disco-era favorite. Another single, “New Orleans,” reached Number Twelve on the R&B chart. Both songs were from the film Let’s Do It Again (1975).
Moving on to Warner Bros., where they remained till the end of the decade, the group shortened its name to the Staples. While at Warner Bros., the group scored two R&B hits, 1976’s “Love Me, Love Me, Love Me” and 1978’s “Unlock Your Mind.” In 1976 the Staples also collaborated with the Band, performing “The Weight” in The Last Waltz (1978). The Staples’ final hit came in 1984, when they covered the Talking Heads’ song “Slippery People.”
Our cover photo has The Staple Singers — Pervis, Cleotha, Pops, Mavis and Yvonne (left to right) —at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in New York City. Yvonne Staples, whose voice and business acumen powered the success of her family’s Staples Singers gospel group, has died at age 80.