Cleotha Staples–one of the original members of soul and gospel group the Staple Singers—has died. She was 78.
Staples passed on Thursday after a 12-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Her soprano voice was a crucial component of the Staple Singers’ signature sound. “Her [voice], which rang out like a bell and descended with a distinctive twang, was among the key musical elements in the family group that sold tens of millions of records and scored hits such as “I’ll Take You There,” “Respect Yourself” and “Uncloudy Day,” notes the Detroit Press.
Born on April 11, 1934, Staples was the oldest child of Roebuck “Pops” Staples and his wife, Osceola. She grew up on a sharecroppers farm near Drew, Mississippi. A year later, “Pops” Staples relocated his family to Chicago. He grew up with blues guitarists such as Charlie Patton and sang in gospel groups, which would later have a great influence on Cleotha and her siblings.
In the 1940s, “Pops” Staples began teaching his children songs he had learned throughout the years. The young group started to perform at local churches. By 1953, the Staple Singers were recording albums and touring.
With a string of Top 40 hits on Stax Records, in the late 1960s, the Staple Singers earned themselves the nickname “God’s greatest hitmakers.” They were also asked by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to perform at rallies.