Yvonne Staples passes on to glory at age 80
Member of famous Staples Singers
Gregg Reese OW Contributor | 4/12/2018, midnight
Yvonne Staples did not seek the spotlight, leaving that to the considerable talents of her sister, Mavis. Never-the-less, when father “Pops” Staples summoned her to mount the stage in support of her siblings, she added her powerhouse harmonies to the musical legacy of the Staple Singers.
Yvonne Staples passed on to greater glory in her Southside Chicago apartment, on Tuesday. She was 80 years old, and had been battling colon cancer
This musical saga began in the cradle of blues and gospel, the state of Mississippi. Roebuck “Pops” Staples, born in 1914, became proficient in playing the guitar while soaking up the legacy of giants Chester Burnett (aka “Howlin’ Wolf”), Son House, Robert Johnson, and Charlie Patton on the landmark Dockery Plantation (since 2006 part of the National Registry of Historical Places), considered the birthplace of the Delta Blues. By 1941, he and his wife Osceola joined the exodus of African Americans moving north to Chicago, where they raised a family, from which they formed a gospel group to sing at local churches. By the 1950s, he and his offspring, performing as the “Staple Singers” were a fixture on many of the area’s small record labels, with tunes like “This May Be the Last Time,” later covered by the English rock group, the Rolling Stones,” in 1965.
By the 1960s the Vietnam War was underway, and Yvonne (the fourth of five children), who’d previously assisted on the business end, stepped in to replace her army bound brother Pervis, as a back up singer. She and her sister Cleotha provided an elegant cushion for Mavis’ jagged, raspy lead vocals. They often supported the Rev. Martin Luther King, whose own particular Staples tune was “Why? (Am I Treated So Bad).”
With civil rights the mantra of the day, the times were right to bridge the genres of the sacred and secular realms. The Staples’ spiritually infused music was in lockstep with the trend towards social consciousness, in spite of simultaneous criticism by the church for blending music meant for praise with earthly, worldly pursuits.
The quartet’s rise began in earnest when they signed with Memphis’ Stax Records in 1968, abetted by such talented sidemen as Booker T. and the MG’s, and guitarist George Benson.
Releasing over 30 albums during their career, they were honored with induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 2013 for "an imprint of soulful voices, righteous conviction and danceable message music across the decades."
Yvonne Staples was born in Oct. 23, 1938, and was preceded in death by her mother, Oceola Staples in 1987, her father, “Pops” Staples in 2000, and her sisters, Cynthia (who never sang with the group) in 1973, and Cleotha in 2013. She was credited with reviving Mavis’ career after their father’s the death of left her depressed and unmotivated. Yvonne reminded her of Pops legacy, which prompted Mavis to return to her performing and recording, with Yvonne acting as her road manager.
Mavis and Pervis, who tended to their sister in her final days in the historic South Shore neighborhood of Chicago, are now the sole surviving members of the Staple Singers. Services will be held on March 16, at Trinity United Church of Christ, in the Washington Heights section of Chicago.