Obituaries

Yvonne Staples, was part of ‘God’s greatest hitmakers’; at 80

The Staple Singers (from left), Pervis, Cleotha, Pops, Mavis, and Yvonne, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Albert Ferreira/Associated Press/FILE 1999
The Staple Singers (from left), Pervis, Cleotha, Pops, Mavis, and Yvonne, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

CHICAGO — Yvonne Staples, whose voice and business acumen powered the success of the Staple Singers, her family’s hit-making gospel group that topped the charts in the early 1970s with the song ‘‘I’ll Take You There,’’ has died. She was 80.

Miss Staples died Tuesday at home in Chicago, according to Chicago funeral home Leak and Sons. Bill Carpenter, a family friend, said she had colon cancer.

She performed with her sisters Mavis and Cleotha and their father, Pops, on hits such as ‘‘Respect Yourself’’ and ‘‘I’ll Take You There,’’ their first No. 1 hit.

Advertisement

The family was also active in the civil rights movement and performed at the request of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
A look at the news and events shaping the day ahead, delivered every weekday.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Yvonne Staples wasn’t as interested in singing as the rest of her family but stepped in when her brother, Pervis, left for military service, according to Carpenter, author of ‘‘Uncloudy Day: The Gospel Music Encyclopedia.’’

Yvonne Staples also helped her father with business tasks, Carpenter said.

‘‘She was very no nonsense but at the same time had a heart of gold,’’ Carpenter said. ‘‘But when it came to business she was very strict. If this is what the contract said, this is what you better do.’’

Miss Staples was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with her family in 1999. The group also received a lifetime achievement award from the Grammys in 2005. Still, she wasn’t interested in the limelight, Carpenter said.

Advertisement

‘‘She didn’t want to talk about her own singing,’’ Carpenter said. ‘‘She said ‘Mavis is the star. Mavis is the voice.’ She never cared about attention for herself.’’

Yvonne Staples was Mavis Staples’s road manager until recent years, Carpenter said.

The family’s music career had its roots with Pops Staples, a manual laborer who strummed a $10 guitar while teaching his children gospel songs to keep them entertained in the evenings.

They sang in church one Sunday morning in 1948, and three encores and a heavy church offering basket convinced Pops that music was in the family’s future. The Staple Singers was born.

Two decades later, the group became an unlikely hit maker for the Stax label.

Advertisement

Their success in the late 1960s earned them the nickname ‘‘God’s greatest hitmakers.’’

The family became active in civil rights after hearing King deliver a sermon while they were on tour in Montgomery, Ala., in 1962. They went on to perform at events at King’s request.

It was during this period that the family began recording protest songs, such as ‘‘Freedom Highway,’’ as well as gospel.

Pops Staples died in 2000 and the group dissolved. The lead singer, Mavis, later said that the death of her father left her reeling and lost. She stopped performing until her sister intervened, with typical directness.

“Yvonne got me,” Mavis Staples said, according to the book, “I’ll Take You there: Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers, and the Music That Shaped the Civil Rights Era. “Yvonne said, ‘Mavis, your daddy would want you to keep singing. You’ve got to get up. You’re daddy’s legacy.’ … And that’s when she started with the other words: ‘Damn it, Mavis,’ and worse. It woke me up.”

“Yvonne was always the quietest one,” family friend and country singer Marty Stuart said in an interview. “But she was the eagle eye that saw every move somebody would make before they made it.’’