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Staples, “Pops” 1915–2000

Pops Staples 19152000

Singer, guitarist

Absorbed Btues and Gospel

Inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Worked with Curtis M ay field

Selected discography

Sources

The music of Pops Staples embodied a relationship between the sacred and the secular that is distinctive to African-American culture. Moving easily between the two realms, he infused blues and soul with the idealism and commitment of gospel musicafter having expanded the language of gospel and surprised hearers in Chicagos black churches by accompanying his family gospel group, the Staple Singers, with blues-style guitar. With a career that began in the cradle of the blues and had its culmination in a series of top hits in the world of popular music, Staples was one of the essential African-American musicians of the twentieth century.

Born Roebuck Staples on December 28, 1914, in Winona, Mississippi, he was named after the co-founder of the Sears, Roebuck department store chainone of his brothers was named Sears. He was the 13th of 14 children. Growing up in the Mississippi town of Drew, Staples picked cotton as a boy on the famed Dockery plantation, in some historical accounts the birthplace of blues music and without doubt a location associated with some of the traditions greatest pathbreakers, Staples bought his first guitar for five dollars at the plantations general store.

Absorbed Btues and Gospel

Influenced directly by fellow Dockery worker Charley Pat-ton, Staples is also thought to have heard the music of Robert Johnson and Son House in person. On recordings he heard the music of other blues guitarists such as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Big Bill Broonzy. But he was also raised in a church whose members often considered the blues sinful, and he grew up singing gospel music. In the 1940s he temporarily gave up the blues entirely in order to steer his children into gospel, and it was as a member of a local gospel group, the Golden Trumpets, that Staples made his musical debut.

Staples, his wife, Oceola, and their growing family joined the Great Migration north, settling in Chicago in 1935 or 1936. He worked in the citys brutal stockyards for a time and had various other jobs, including one as a meatpacker at the Armour corporations production plant. With both parents working and combining their efforts to raise five children there was little time for music, but Staples nevertheless made some appearances with a gospel group called the Trumpet Jubilees.

At a Glance

Born Roebuck Staples on December 28, 1914, in Winona, MS; died on December 19, 2000, in Dolton, IL; married Oceola (died 1987); children: Cleotha, Yvonne, Mavis, Cynthia (deceased), and Pervis.

Career: Began playing guitar while working on Dockery plantation, late 1920s; performed with gospel group the Golden Trumpets; moved to Chicago, 1935; performed with gospel group the Trumpet Jubilees; formed Staple Singers with daughters Mavis and Cleotha and son Pervis (replaced by daughter Yvonne, 1971), 1947; began recording gospel for Vee Jay label, 1956; Staple Singers signed with Epic label, released folk-oriented material, 1965; Staple Singers signed with Stax label, 1968; released top hits including Ill Take You There; signed with Curtom label, 1975; released solo album debut, Pops Staples, 1987; appeared in stage production The Gospel at Colonus, 1990; released solo albums Peace to the Neighborhood, 1992, Father Father, 1994.

Awards: Pioneer Award, Rhythm & Blues Foundation, 1992; Grammy award nomination, for Peace to the Neighborhood, 1992; Grammy award, Best Contemporary Blues Album, for Father Father, 1994; Heritage Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, 1998.

As the Staples children grew older, Staples began teaching them to harmonize vocally by breaking chords on his guitar down into their individual notes, and with daughters Mavis and Cleo and son Pervis (who was replaced in 1971 by another daughter, Yvonne), he formed the Staple Singers in 1947. For many years the group sang only gospel music, but even in their early days they were musical boundary-crossers. I still had that blues feel, Staples was quoted as saying in the Chicago Sun-Times. I couldnt get that out of my system. Some churches resisted the bluesy tinge of the Staples music, but their spiritual conviction won most of their audiences over.

Inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1956 the Staple Singers inaugurated a long recording career with a series of singles for Chicagos United and Vee Jay record labels, covering such gospel standards as Uncloudy Day in a dark, profound blues style. Those records sold unusually well for gospel releases, but the Staple Singers took their music to another level after Staples began hearing the powerful anti-segregation preaching of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the late 1950s. If he can preach it, we can sing it, Staples told his family, according to the Washington Post. Staples wrote one of his best-known gospel numbers, Why (Am I Treated So Bad), in response to the violent clashes over school desegregation that occurred in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957, and King, in turn, often requested that song when he and the Staple Singers shared a podium.

The Staple Singers became more and more identified with folk music and its associated protest movements in the 1960s, beginning to record secular material in 1962 but never leaving behind the high-mindedness of gospel. Recording for the Epic label, they released such folk-rock numbers as Bob Dylans Blowin in the Wind and Buffalo Springfields For What Its Worth, and took a new version of Why (Am I Treated So Bad) to the lower levels of the pop charts. The success of those recordings led the Staple Signers to a contract with Stax records in 1968just as the label was hitting its stride as the primary purveyor of southern soul.

With that move, Staples was able to bring all the strands of his long musical experience togetherblues and gospel roots, a progressive orientation derived from folk music and the protest culture of the 1960s, and now a rhythmically powerful and innovative sound honed by the staff producers and instrumentalists at Stax who did much to create soul music itself. The Staple Singers 1971 single Respect Yourself went to No. 2 on the pop charts, and Ill Take You There, its irresistible main bass-guitar-and-horns riff later to become a favorite source of hip-hop samples, went to No. 1 the following year. The group scored several other pop and numerous soul hits, and Pops Staples also released several singles as a solo act.

Worked with Curtis M ay field

Entering his seventh decade, Staples continued to seek out new musical challenges and stylistic combinations. The Staple Singers signed with Chicago vocalist and songwriter Curtis Mayfields Curtom label in 1975 and scored one more No. 1 hit, Lets Do It Again. In the 1980s they even tried, with some success, to adapt their sound to the dance-oriented music of that decade. The groups popularity declined somewhat, but Staples kept busy with several film appearances, a role in the Greek tragedy/gospel stage musical A Gospel at Colonus, and, in 1987, his solo album debut, Pops Staples.

By the 1990s, Staples was considered a legend of American music; he received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Yet he continued to perform and record fresh material rather than resting on his laurels. Two more solo albums, 1992s Peace to the Neighborhood and 1994s Father Father, saw Staples at once returning to his musical roots and joining forces with younger blues artists such as Ry Cooder and Bonnie Raitt. Father Father won a Grammy award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Musically active until the very end of his life, Staples died peacefully at his home in Dolton, Illinois, near Chicago, on December 19, 2000.

Selected discography

(with the Staple Singers)

Uncloudy Day, Vee Jay, 1961.

Hammers and Nails, Riverside, 1962.

Amen, Epic, 1965.

Why?, Epic, 1966.

Soul Folk in Action, Stax, 1968.

The Staple Swingers, Stax, 1970.

Bealtitude: Respect Yourself, Stax, 1972.

Be What You Are, Stax, 1973.

Lets Do It Again, Curtom, 1975.

This Time Around, Stax, 1981.

Freedom Highway, Columbia, 1991.

(as solo act)

Pops Staples, A&M, 1987.

Peace to the Neighborhood, Pointblank, 1992.

Father Father, Pointblank, 1994.

Sources

Books

Contemporary Musicians, volume 11, Gale Research, 1994.

Heilbut, Anthony, The Gospel Sound, Limelight, 1992.

Periodicals

Chicago Sun-Times, December 20, 2000, p. 61.

The Guardian (London, England), December 29, 2000, p. 17.

Jet, July 27, 1998, p. 32; January 8, 2001, p. 52.

Los Angeles Times, December 20, 2000, p. B6.

New York Times, December 22, 2000, p. B14.

The Times (London, England), December 21, 2000, Features section.

Washington Post, December 20, 2000, p. B7.

Online

All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com.

James M. Manheim

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Staples, Pops

Pops Staples

Singer, songwriter, guitarist

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

Since his earliest days as a blues musician in rural Mississippi, Pops Staples has used music to bring people together. Although he has enjoyed critical accolades and popular success, he has never lost sight of his most important goalas he told Guitar Players Jas Obrecht, to sing a song that says together we stand and divided we fall. As guitar soloist, singer, and leader of one of the most successful and influential groups in the history of gospel and soul, Staples has enjoyed career enough for several men; yet he has remained vital as a recording and performing artist even as he approaches his 80th year.

By the early 1990s, legions of younger musicians claimed Staples as an inspiration. When he began preparing to record his second solo album, recording stars and fans such as Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and Ry Cooder all offered to lend a hand. The result was a heartfelt and utterly contemporary statement on the problems of race relations in America, an issue of enduring importance to Staples.

Born in Winona, Mississippi, in 1914, Staples heard some of the countrys greatest blues players, including Charley Patton, Dick Bankston, and Howlin Wolf, when they performed near his home. He bought his first acoustic guitar when he was 15. Although Staples came from a devoutly religious family, one that considered blues playing sinful, he practiced the style diligently and was soon in demand as a guitarist at house parties and other social functions. This contact with the rich vernacular music of his childhood was woven deeply into his musical personality and would be heard throughout his career, even when he was performing in a strictly religious setting.

Besides developing his talents as an instrumentalist, Staples also began to earn a reputation around his hometown as a member of a gospel group called the Golden Trumpets. Yet the prospect of raising a family in the Depression-era South was a gloomy one, and Staples, now newly married, decided to try his luck in Chicago. He arrived there with his wife in 1935 with only $12 in his pocket and was forced to put his music aside to provide for his children. As he told Obrecht, My wife was havin children so fast, I worked about 12 years before I even picked up a guitar again. My wife and Iwe did it ourselvesshe worked at night and I worked in the day.

As his children became more able to look after themselves, Staples felt the call of a musical career once again, and in 1947 he bought his first electric guitar. In his spare time he began teaching the youngsters to perform songs like If I Could Hear My Mother Pray

For the Record

Born Roebuck Staples, December 2, 1914, in Winona, MS; children: Cleotha, Yvonne, Mavis, Purvis.

Began playing guitar c. 1929; sang with gospel group the Golden Trumpets; formed group the Staples Singers with daughters Mavis and Cleotha and son Purvis (later replaced by daughter Yvonne), 1947; Staples Singers joined Dr. Martin Luther Kings crusade for civil rights, early 1960s; with group, recorded Ill Take You There, 1972; began solo career, 1985; released Pops Staples, IAM/A&M, 1987; toured U.S. and Europe as solo act and with Staples Singers. Appeared in film True Stories, 1985, and in stage productions A Gospel at Colonus and Something New for the Holidays, both 1990.

Awards: (With Staples Singers) Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award, 1992.

Addresses: Pointblank/Charisma Records America, Inc., 1790 Broadway, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10019.

Again and Do Not Pass Me By in harmony by assigning each of them a note of a chord he played on his instrument. It was through this informal singing in the home that the Staples SingersPops, Cleo, Mavis, and Purviswas formed.

During the late 1940s the Staples Singers began to find some local exposure in Chicago; then, in 1956, they began their long recording career with a series of discs for the citys United and Vee Jay labels, with Popss passionate guitar playing as their only accompaniment. They also began to perform at several area churches. Initially, there was considerable resistance to the presence of Popss blues-drenched guitar at religious services. But once the ministers witnessed the utter conviction with which the group performed, they softened their stance. We werent trying to pull off no stunts for money, Staples explained to Musicians Obrecht. We were singing because we love Gods word and we love God. The ministers could see that, and they let us come in with the guitar. That was a new thingthe guitar!

With best-selling records such as Uncloudy Day, Stand by Me, and Swing Low, the Staples Singers became one of the countrys most popular gospel ensembles. And with the rise of the civil rights movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the group joined many well-known performers, including Aretha Franklin and her family, in supporting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.s call for social change.

In 1968 the Staples Singers signed with the Memphis-based Stax label and developed more of a contemporary soul sound. It was for Stax that the group recorded its most enduring hits, including Respect Yourself, Heavy Makes You Happy, and, in 1972, Ill Take You There, which reached Number One on the pop singles charts that year (and which was sampled almost two decades later to great effect by the rap duo Salt-N-Pepa in their smash Lets Talk About Sex). In 1975 the group recorded Lets Do It Again for the soundtrack of the Bill Cosby/Sidney Poitier film of the same name; this became their second Number One hit.

The mid-1980s found the Staples Singers touring widely and appearing on radio and televisionand Pops Staples beginning to explore the possibility of a solo career. He performed a solo version of Nobodys Fault But Mine on a telecast of the 1985 Grammy Awards, and in 1987 released his first solo album, Pops Staples, on IAM/A&M Records.

Staples also began developing an interest in acting. He had a small role as a voodoo practitioner in David Byrnes 1985 film True Stories, and in 1990 starred in both the Chicago and San Francisco stage productions of A Gospel at Colonus. That year Staples also appeared in a Minneapolis production of Something New for the Holidays.

As the 1990s began to unfold, Staples showed little sign of slowing down. He toured extensively as a solo artist in 1991, and that year also found him attending the dedication of Pops Staples Park in Drew, Mississippi. In February of 1992, The Staples Singers traveled to New York to accept a Pioneer Award from The Rhythm and Blues Foundation. During the trip the group found time to record two songs with jazz vocalist Abbey Lincoln. After the release of Peace to the Neighborhood, his star-studded second solo album, Staples made plans to tour extensively in the U.S. and Europe, both as a solo act and with his family. He also recorded a duet with pop folksinger Michelle Shocked, thereby carrying his abiding message of hope and unity to a generation of younger listeners.

Selected discography

With the Staples Singers

Uncloudy Day, Vee Jay, 1961.

Hammers and Nails, Riverside, 1962.

Amen, Epic, 1965.

Why?, Epic, 1966.

Soul Folk in Action, Stax, 1968.

The Staples Swingers, Stax, 1970.

Bealtitude: Respect Yourself, Stax, 1972.

Be What You Are, Stax, 1973.

Lets Do It Again, Curtom, 1975.

This Time Around, Stax, 1981.

The Best of the Staples Singers, Stax, 1986.

Freedom Highway, Columbia, 1991.

(Contributors, with Marty Stuart) The Weight, Rhythm, Country & Blues, MCA, 1994.

Solo albums

Pops Staples, IAM/A&M, 1987.

Peace to the Neighborhood, Pointblank/Charisma, 1992.

Sources

Books

Shaw, Arnold, Black Popular Music in America, Schirmer, 1986.

Heilbut, Anthony, The Gospel Sound: Good News and Bad Times, Simon & Schuster, reissued, Limelight, 1992.

Periodicals

Entertainment Weekly, July 10, 1992.

Guitar Player, September 1992.

Metro Times (Detroit), September 16, 1992.

Rolling Stone, August 20, 1992.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from Pointblank/Charisma Records America, Inc., 1992.

Jeffrey Taylor

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"Staples, Pops." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Staples, Pops." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved June 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/staples-pops