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Pervis Staples, of gospel and soul group the Staple Singers, dies at 85

Mavis Staples, Pervis Staples, Cleotha Staples and Roebuck 'Pops' Staples pose in 1965.
The Staple Singers in 1965, clockwise from left: Mavis Staples, Pervis Staples, Cleotha Staples and Roebuck ‘Pops’ Staples.
(Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

Pervis Staples, whose tenor voice complemented his father’s and sisters’ in the legendary gospel group the Staple Singers, has died at his home outside Chicago.

Pervis Staples died May 6 at 85, according to Adam Ayers, a spokesman for Staples’ sister, Mavis Staples. The cause of death wasn’t announced.

Pervis Staples sang gospel songs with his father, the guitar-playing Roebuck “Pops” Staples, and sisters Mavis, Yvonne and Cleotha in Chicago churches before attracting a national following when they began recording songs such as “So Soon,” “If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” and “Uncloudy Day” for Vee Jay records in the 1950s.

The group gained fame in the 1960s by singing music that urged change on a variety of social and religious issues. The Staple Singers gained a huge audience with their first No. 1 hit, “I’ll Take You There” in 1972 and followed with top 40 hits “Respect Yourself,” “Heavy Makes You Happy,” and “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me).”

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Pervis’ last album with the Staple Singers was their first for Stax Records, “Soul Folks in Action” in 1968. The album featured new songs such as “The Ghetto” and their interpretations of tunes like Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” and the Band’s “The Weight.”

Occasionally, for reasons of fate or coincidence, sounds from the past converge in the present at key moments.

He went on to manage the girl group the Emotions and operated a popular nightclub, Perv’s House.

Pervis Staples was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with his family in 1999. The group also received a lifetime achievement award from the Grammys in 2005.

Mavis Staples, the lone survivor of the group, said in a statement that her brother’s childhood was filled with wonderful experiences.

“He liked to think of this period of his life as setting the stage for all that he wanted to do in life,” she 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 lamp posts in the summertime singing doo-wop songs.”

The Staple Singers at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
The Staple Singers in 1999 at their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, from left: Pervis, Cleotha, Roebuck, Mavis, and Yvonne Staples.
(Albert Ferreira / Associated Press)

Despite the success of Rawls and Cooke, Roebuck Staples routinely rejected offers to the group to record rhythm and blues, saying it was in conflict with his faith. However, it was with the nudging of Pervis Staples that the group compromised by performing message music in the 1960s, singing at music festivals around the country.

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Pervis Staples was born Nov. 18, 1935, in Drew, Miss. He and his family moved to Chicago for economic opportunities. That is where Roebuck Staples started teaching his children gospel songs to occupy their time.

Pervis Staples was preceded in death by his parents, Roebuck and Oceola; and three sisters, Cynthia, Cleotha and Yvonne. In addition to his sister Mavis, he is survived by his six children, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.


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