One of the most respected voices in gospel and R&B was stilled Tuesday (December 19), when Roebuck "Pops" Staples died in Chicago. He was 84.
The Staple Singers founder had fallen and sustained a concussion recently at his home in suburban Chicago, according to the Associated Press.
Born in Mississippi in 1915, Staples started singing the blues and honed his guitar skills by watching the legendary Charley Patton on Dockery's Plantation, one of the wellsprings of great Delta blues. Later, he sang with the gospel group the Golden Trumpets before he and his wife, Oceala, moved to Chicago in 1936. When Staples put together the Staple Singers, composed of Pops and his children Pervis, Mavis and Cleotha, he brought his distinctive, Delta-blues-influenced guitar playing to the Southern black gospel sound.
Though they first recorded for Vee-Jay in the 1950s, the Staple Singers found their niche singing R&B with a gospel flavor for Stax in the 1960s. Albums such as Freedom Highway (1965) and Soul Folk in Action (1968) were infused with a dose of gospel politics that made the Staple Singers important musical figures in the civil rights movement. Daughter Yvonne replaced Pervis in the group in 1966.
The group's greatest success came in the early 1970s. "I'll Take You There" (RealAudio excerpt), from 1971's Bealtitude: Respect Yourself, became a #1 pop hit, with its catchy opening guitar-and-horns riff and the choral repetitions of the title. Though Mavis usually handled lead vocals, Pops took the mic for the group's other biggest top 40 hit, "Respect Yourself."
The group continued to record and tour throughout the 1980s, and Mavis went on to a successful solo career with the help of Prince. Pops Staples recorded his first solo album, Peace to the Neighborhood, at age 77 in 1992. The Grammy-nominated disc mixed gospel and blues and featured appearances by Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Brown and Ry Cooder.