CHICAGO — Yvonne Staples, whose voice and business acumen powered the success of her family’s Staple Singers gospel group, has died at age 80.
Staples died Tuesday at home in Chicago, the Chicago funeral home Leak and Sons said. Yvonne 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, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Yvonne Staples wasn’t as interested in singing as the rest of her family but she stepped in when her brother Pervis left for military service, said family friend Bill Carpenter, who is 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.”
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. But Staples wasn’t as interested in the limelight, Carpenter said.
“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’ 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 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. The Staples Singers had a string of Top 40 hits with Stax in the late 1960s, earning them the nickname “God’s greatest hitmakers.”
The family also became active in the civil rights movement after hearing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver a sermon while they were on tour in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1962. They went on to perform at events at King’s request. It was during that period that the family began recording protest songs, such as “Freedom Highway,” as well as gospel.