The Staple Singers were a highly acclaimed family R&B group from Chicago that became famous for their many powerful, positive-thinking songs that address such important issues as social justice and self-empowerment. Before their commercial success began taking off in the early 1970s, they were a musical and spiritual voice of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The Staple Singers' origins date back to 1948 when group leader and patriarch, Roebuck "Pops" Staples, a veteran gospel singer, songwriter, and guitarist, as well as close friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., began performing alongside his son Pervis and two of his daughters, Mavis (b. July 10, 1939) and Cleotha (April 11, 1934 - February 21, 2013), at local area churches. They landed their first record contract in 1952 and, for many years, recorded in an acoustic gospel-folk style with various labels. Beginning in the late 1960s, the group's style had become more mainstream, incorporating R&B, pop, soul, and later funk. By 1971, Pervis had left the group and was replaced by his sister Yvonne (October 23, 1937 - April 10, 2018). Mavis Staples trademark contralto lead vocals can be heard on such classics as "Respect Yourself," "I'll Take You There," "If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)," and "Let's Do It Again."
The Staple Singers made their debut in 1966 on the Pop/Rock charts with the Roebuck Staples-penned protest song, "Why? (Am I Treated So Bad)," which later also became a hit for The Sweet Inspirations, "Cannonball" Adderley, and Bobby Powell. Other early hits included their cover of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" (1967). The group's fame took off in early 1971 with its first hit on the Stax label, "Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom-Boom)," which reached the Top 10 on the R&B charts and also the Pop/Rock Top 40. In late 1971, The Staple Singers had another major hit with what would come to be one of their signature songs, the anthemic "Respect Yourself," which has received many accolades over the years that include being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002. Both "Heavy Makes You Happy" and "Respect Yourself" became million-sellers shortly after their release and are gold-certified. The Staple Singers then topped both the Pop/Rock and R&B charts in 1972 with the uplifting "I'll Take You There," another award-winning song that was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. They also topped the R&B charts with "If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)" (1973) and "Let's Do It Again" (1975), both songs of which also became Top 10 hits on the Pop/Rock charts. The Staple Singers many other hits on both charts also included "This World" (1972), "Oh La De Da" (1973), "Be What You Are" (1973), and "Touch A Hand, Make A Friend" (1974). In 1976, The Staple Singers performed a gospel version of "The Weight" with The Band which was featured in "The Last Waltz" (1978). They found a new audience when they recorded this song again in 1994 with country singer Marty Stuart for the compilation album, "Rhythm, Country And Blues."
The Staple Singers numerous honors and accolades include being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2018. In 2005, the famed family singing group was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Mavis Staples has also recorded solo since the late 1960s and continues to tour and record to the present day.
- Mavis Staples describes growing up on the road with The Staple Singers and the family's role in the civil rights movement in an interview with Ed Masley of azcentral.com (March 1, 2017).
- The New York Times remembers Roebuck Staples, Cleotha Staples, and Yvonne Staples.
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- Don't Change Me Now 1972
(B-side of "Endlessly")
- Endlessly 1972
(This song was previously a hit for Brook Benton (1959) and Sonny James (1970).)
- I Have Learned To Do Without You 1970
The Staple Singers
- Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom Boom) 1971
- If You're Ready (Come Go With Me) 1973
- I'll Take You There 1972
(This song topped both the R&B and Pop/Rock charts and later also became a hit for BeBe & CeCe Winans (1992) and General Public (1994).)
- Let's Do It Again 1975
(This song topped both the R&B and Pop/Rock charts.)
- Oh La De Da 1973
- Respect Yourself 1971
("Respect Yourself" by the Staple Singers is included in Rolling Stone magazine's list of 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time. This song, which exhorts people to respect themselves and others, was a rallying cry for the still-emerging black power and feminist movements during the early 1970s. "Respect Yourself" later also became a hit for Bruce Willis (1987).)
- This World 1972
- Touch A Hand, Make A Friend 1974
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