Pervis Staples, member of famed Staple Singers, dies at 85

Free Press staff, wire reports | 5/20/2021, 6 p.m.
Pervis Staples, whose tenor voice complimented his father’s and sisters’ in the legendary gospel group The Staple Singers, was remembered …
Mr. Staples

CHICAGO - Pervis Staples, whose tenor voice complimented his father’s and sisters’ in the legendary gospel group The Staple Singers, was remembered during a funeral service Monday, May 17, as a great singer and a great brother.

Mr. Staples died Thursday, May 6, 2021, at his home in Dolton, Ill. He was 85. The cause of death wasn’t given.

Family and friends remembered him as generous, kind, loving person who was a wonderful musician and protector of his sisters as they traveled and performed in the Jim Crow South.

“He was a giving and generous man,” said his daughter, Perleta S. Sanders of Richmond. “He would always greet everyone with a smile, and the ladies loved him.”

“He influenced so many people,” said his godson Jun Mhoon. “Gladys Knight and The Pips, he grew up with Sam Cooke, he grew up with Lou Rawls, literally they grew up together. He was just a great, genuine gentleman.”

Mr. Staples was born Nov. 18, 1935, in Drew, Miss. He and his family moved to Chicago for economic opportunities. That is where their guitar-playing father, Roebuck “Pops” Staples, started teaching his children gospel songs to entertain them and occupy their time.

Mr. Staples sang gospel songs with his father and sisters Mavis, Yvonne and Cleotha in Chicago churches before gaining a national following. They began recording songs such as “So Soon,” “If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Uncloudy Day” for Vee Jay records in the 1950s.

The group gained fame in the 1960s by singing music that urged change on a variety of social and religious issues.

The Staple Singers gained a huge audience with their first No. 1 hit, “I’ll Take You There” in 1972, followed with top 40 hits “Respect Yourself,” “Heavy Makes You Happy” and “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me).”

Mr. Staples’ last album with The Staple Singers was their first for Stax Records, “Soul Folks in Action” in 1968. The album featured new songs such as “The Ghetto” and their interpretations of tunes like Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” and The Band’s “The Weight.”

Mr. Staples went on to manage the group The Emotions and operated for a few years a popular Chicago nightclub, Perv’s House, in the 1970s, which many ranked as the Cadillac of the clubs for blues, funk and early disco.

Mr. Staples was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his family in 1999 and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2018. The group also received a lifetime achievement award from the Grammys in 2005.

Mavis Staples, the lone survivor of the group, said in a statement that her brother’s childhood was filled with wonderful experiences.

“He liked to think of this period of his life as setting the stage for all that he wanted to do in life,” she said. “Some of Pervis’ best friends as a youngster included Sam Cooke, Lou Rawls and Jerry Butler. Pervis and the guys would stand under the lamp posts in the summertime singing doo-wop songs.”

His family said that he also loved playing pool and tennis.

Despite the success of Mr. Rawls and Mr. Cooke, Roebuck Staples routinely rejected offers to the group to record rhythm and blues, saying it was in conflict with his faith. However, it was with the nudging of Pervis Staples that the group compromised by performing message music in the 1960s, performing at music festivals around the country.

Mr. Staples was preceded in death by his parents, Roebuck and Oceola, and three sisters, Cynthia, Cleotha and Yvonne.

Survivors also include his son, Pervis R. Staples; and four other daughters, Gwen Staples, Reverly Staples, Paris Staples and Eala Yvonne Sams; seven grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.