Cleotha Staples, a member of The Staple Singers gospel group, has died after a decade-long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. She was 78 years old.
Cleotha was considered the backbone of the group, preferring to take on the role of the “strong, silent type”. She was described by those who knew her as wise beyond her years, even as a child.
“When she was young they used to call her granny because she acted like a granny in terms of being wise and always sure of the best thing to do,” Bill Carpenter, a friend of the family’s, said.
The Staple Singers were born after their father, Roebuck (also known as Pops), taught them to sing along as he played guitar when they were young. It began as a way to pass the time in the evenings, but after a performance at church garnered major attention and accolades, the family began to take it more seriously. Cleotha was particularly talented as a child, Carpenter says.
“When Pops used to sit them in a circle and play music with them he was sort of feeding off of her voice. It was high in a light way, sort of soothing and velvety so his guitar playing bounced off of that.”
Pops had already enjoyed a musical career after learning guitar as a young man and singing with the gospel group The Golden Trumpets. Later, he would incorporate his distinctive Delta-blues guitar playing with The Staple Singers’ sound, bringing them success and hit songs in the ’60s and ’70s. Pops passed away in 2000 after sustaining a fall and concussion.