Roebuck “Pops” Staples, founder and patriarch of gospel and blues group the Staple Singers, died of a heart attack at his home in Dolton, Ill., outside of Chicago on Tuesday; he was eighty-four. Staples — whose birthday was coming up on Dec. 28 — was recovering from a concussion suffered when he fell four weeks ago near his home, according to his longtime publicist Bill Carpenter.
Staples, who didn’t record a solo album until the age of seventy-seven, began his professional career at the age of eighteen, when his wife and he moved their growing family to Chicago. Staples took a job in the stockyards, but spent weekends singing with the Silver Trumpets. In 1952, he bought a guitar and taught his children to sing gospel songs and began to sing at the city’s churches. Five years later, the Staples Singers went professional, topping the charts in the Sixties and Seventies with socially conscious songs like “Respect Yourself,” “I’ll Take You There,” “If You’re Ready Come Go With Me” and “Let’s Do It Again.”
Al Kooper, a friend of Staples who produced two songs for the group for inclusion in the 1970 film The Landlord, said, “It’s a big loss to the blues and gospel community. Pops singing and guitar playing were incredibly influential in those fields in the twentieth century. Plus he was a lovely man and a wonderful father.”
Staples is survived by his children, Pervis, Cleotha, Yvonne and Mavis. His wife, Oceola, died in 1987.
Visitation for Staples will be held from noon until 8 p.m. Friday at the Cage Memorial Chapel, 7651 S. Jeffery Blvd., Chicago, and on Saturday from 11 a.m. until noon in the Trinity United Church of Christ, 400 W. 95th St., Chicago. A funeral service will immediately follow in the church.