Roebuck “Pops” Staples, patriarch of the Staple Singers whose lyrics on “Respect Yourself” and other hits delivered a civil rights message with a danceable soul beat, has died.
Staples, 85, died from natural causes Dec. 19 at his home near Chicago. The Chicago Tribune reported he suffered a heart attack.
“They took this really positive message music and made it contemporary and popular by putting it with electric guitars and inserting a groove,” said Sherman Wilmott, who is helping create a museum in Memphis, Tennessee, honoring the musical stars at Stax Records, the Staple Singers’ principal label.
Born in Winona, Mississippi, Staples learned to sing acappella and developed his Delta blues electric guitar style.
Starting out as a gospel group in 1948, the Staple Singers with son Pervis and daughters Mavis and Cleotha as singers reached an even wider audience with 1970s soul hits such as “Respect Yourself,” “I’ll Take You There” and “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me).”
Before achieving stardom, Staples resisted taking his family on tour and held jobs in Chicago’s stockyards and steel mills.
Staples came to believe he could contribute in song to the battle for blacks’ civil rights being waged by the Rev. Martin Luther King and others, Wilmott said.
“He sang and played guitar. He was extremely well-spoken and calm and intelligent,” he said.
At age 80, Staples won a Grammy Award as a solo artist in 1994 for his album “Father Father.” He also received a National Heritage Fellowship Award at the White House from first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. The group entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year.
In a 1998 interview with the Tribune, Staples said his musical education began early.
“We’d come home and didn’t have anything to do after we eat but go to bed. So we’d go out in the yard and sing.”