Cleotha ”Cleedi” Staples (pictured), the eldest member of the famed soul/gospel group, The Staple Singers, passed away on Feb. 21 of causes related to Alzheimer’s disease. The performer had battled the disease for over a decade, according to Philly.com.
She was 78.
Cleotha was born in Drew, Miss., on April 11, 1934 to Roebuck “Pops” Staples and his wife Oceola. She was soon followed by siblings Pervis, Yvonne, Mavis and Cynthia.
After relocating to Chicago in search of better employment opportunities, Cleotha’s father managed to work a few manual labor jobs while Oceola toiled at a hotel stint overnight. Pops began to teach his children gospel songs in order to keep them entertained during the evenings while their mother worked. Pops’ sister Katie enjoyed her brother and his family’s singing so much that she invited them to sing at her church one Sunday morning in 1948. Congregants loved what they heard and begged for three encores.
This event marked the beginning of the Staples family’s professional singing career.
The group, which consisted of Pops on guitar and Cleotha, Mavis and brother Pervis accompanying him, made their first recording in 1953 but didn’t strike it big until three years later with the gospel song “If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again.” The Staples were a gospel sensation and have been credited as the first group to record a gospel chart-busting, one-million selling hit, ”Uncloudy Day.”
The Staples, who had become civil rights activists in the 60′s, were also a favorite gospel group of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and they often performed at events at his request. The Staples’ songs often echoed what was going on around the nation through their songs of protest, reflected in such songs as “For What It’s Worth” and “Why? (Am I Treated So Bad).”
When Pervis left the group in 1968 to enter the army and sister Yvonne stepped in the group began foraying into the top 40′s charts and the next decade brought about electrifying success with such iconic songs as “Touch A Hand, Make A Friend,” and the million-sellers, “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself.”
Even though Pops and Mavis took over the lead on many of the Staples’ songs, Cleotha’s soprano vocals were also featured on the recordings of other major performers like Eddie Floyd (“Knock On Wood” fame).
Over the years, Cleotha and her family continued to perform and even won a Grammy in 1994 for their album “Father, Father.” The family was also inducted into the prestigious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. When Pops passed away in 2000, Cleotha and her siblings made the decision to retire musically as a group.
Cleotha leaves behind her siblings Pervis, Yvonne, Mavis and various extended relatives and friends.