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Pervis Staples, co-founder of The Staple Singers, dies at 85

The singer died in his home in South suburban Dolton on May 6.

The Staple Singers: Pervis (from left), Cleotha, Pops, Mavis and Yvonne Staples, pose for the media at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in New York Monday, March, 15, 1999. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the “performer” category.
The Staple Singers: Pervis (from left), Cleotha, Pops, Mavis and Yvonne Staples, pose for the media at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in New York Monday, March, 15, 1999. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the “performer” category.
AP

Pervis Staples, one of the co-founders of the legendary gospel/R&B group The Staple Singers, has died. He was 85.

The singer died in his home in south suburban Dolton on May 6, according to Adam Ayers, a member of his sister Mavis Staples’ management team.

In a statement, his sister, the iconic singer Mavis Staples, said: “Pervis was one of a kind — comical and downright fly. He would want to be remembered as an upright man, always willing to help and encourage others. He was one of the good guys and will live on as a true Chicago legend.”

Pervis Staples was born Nov. 18, 1935, in Drew, Mississippi. Roebuck “Pops” Staples and his wife Oceola moved their family from Mississippi to Chicago’s South Side in the late 1930s to raise their children Cleotha, Pervis, Mavis and Yvonne (the latter two born in Chicago). The singing group was founded by Pops Staples and his children in the early 1950s, singing first in their local church and then releasing such early hits as “Uncloudy Day” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” Later success for the group came via 1970s hits such as ”Respect Yourself,” “I’ll Take You There,” and “Let’s Do It Again.” Pervis’ last album with the group was the 1968 release “Soul Folks in Action” on the Stax label.

“Pervis’ childhood was filled with wonderful experiences,” Mavis Staples said. “... Some of Pervis’ best friends as a youngster included Sam Cooke, Lou Rawls, and Jerry Butler. Pervis and the guys would stand under the lampposts in the summertime singing doo-wop songs.”

Pervis Staples graduated from Chicago’s Dunbar Vocational Career Academy and later served in the U.S. Army, where he was a member of the U.S. Army Choral Group.

“Under Roebuck ‘Pops’ Staples, you learn how to do everything [singing, writing songs, church particpation],” said Alvin Daniels, creator of the TV series, “Preacher’s Kids: The Untold Stories.” “As I became more aware of the [Staple Singers], they were connected with the Civil Rights Movement, because of Dr. King. They had a real spirituality to their music. Some music is static, and just talks about ‘God,’ but their music hit a chord and you can feel ‘God’ in that spirituality.

The Staple Singers, circa 1953 (from left): Pervis, “Pops,” Cleotha and Mavis.
The Staple Singers, circa 1953 (from left): Pervis, “Pops,” Cleotha and Mavis.
Courtesy of the Opal Nations Archive

“Some gospel artists are religious, and you hear the word ‘God,’ but in the Staple Singers’ music, you felt ‘God.’ I believe Pervis was really instrumental in that before he left the group.”

Chicago blues artist Wayne Baker Brooks said the Staple Singers are the “Spirit and soul of Chicago,” and Pervis Staples was the catalyst for making that happen. “They represented Chicago wherever they performed worldwide with immense dignity and class,” said Brooks. “I truly believe the Staple Singers would not have reached the high level of mainstream success without Pervis. He was the one who lobbied hard for them to cross over into the mainstream. “Without that push, we may not have timeless hits such as ‘I’ll Take You There,’ ‘Respect Yourself,’ and ‘Let’s Do It Again,’ which was a bit risqué for a gospel-singing family back then, but it worked so well. I think Pervis at that time knew it would before anyone.”

Pervis Staples is survived by Mavis as well as his six children, seven grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. May 17 at Leak & Son’s Funeral Homes, 7838 S. Cottage Grove Ave. A wake precedes the funeral at 10 a.m. at the funeral home.

Contributing: Evan F. Moore