Cleotha Staples, the eldest sister and member of the Staples Singers, has died after a decade-long battle with Alzheimer’s. She was 78 years old.
Family friend and music publicist Bill Carpenter said Cleotha Staples died on Thursday at her Chicago home. Carpenter said Staples defined herself by being the “strong, silent type.” Her siblings “used to call her granny” when they were younger “because she acted like a granny in terms of being wise and always sure of the best thing to do,” Carpenter said.
The Staples Singers were an R&B, soul, and gospel group formed by patriarch Roebuck “Pops” Staples in 1948. The group originally consisted of Cleotha, Pervis, and Yvonne Staples. Pervis eventually left the group in 1969 to become a music producer, and sister Mavis was added.
The group, which signed its first professional contract in 1952 and remained active for over 40 years, is best known for their songs “Respect Yourself,” “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me,” and “I’ll Take You There.” They were nicknamed “God’s greatest hitmakers.”
The group was also active in the civil rights movement after hearing Martin Luther King Jr. deliver a sermon while they were on tour in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1962. At King’s request, they performed at several events. They also began recording protest songs such as “Freedom Highway” and covered Bob Dylan‘s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
The Staples Singers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 and received a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys in 2005.
Cleotha Staples was preceded in death by “Pops” Staples, who died on December 19, 2000, a little more than a week before his 86th birthday.
You can check out the Staples Singers performing “Respect Yourself” on Soul Train below. Cleotha is the quiet one.