Pervis Staples, Founding Member Of The Staple Singers, Dies At Age 85 Staples, a tenor vocalist, helped to ease his family's iconic gospel group into secular territory, and later found success as a manager and club owner.
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Pervis Staples, Founding Member Of The Staple Singers, Dies At Age 85

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Pervis Staples, Founding Member Of The Staple Singers, Dies At Age 85

Pervis Staples, Founding Member Of The Staple Singers, Dies At Age 85

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/996553392/996617593" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Pervis Staples, one of the founding members of the legendary Staple Singers, has died. According to a spokesperson, he died suddenly last week in his home just outside Chicago. He was 85 years old. As NPR's Andrew Limbong reports, Pervis Staples helped the gospel group become a mainstream success.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE STAPLE SINGERS SONG, "A HARD RAIN'S A-GONNA FALL")

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Pervis Staples was mainly a background singer, but you can hear him take a rare lead vocal in the Staple Singers cover of Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A HARD RAIN'S A-GONNA FALL")

THE STAPLE SINGERS: (Singing) I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways, six crooked highways. I've been out...

LIMBONG: This recording took some convincing to make. Roebuck "Pops" Staples, the patriarch of the family and the band, was committed to singing gospel songs only. So Pervis played his dad some songs by a friend of his, Bob Dylan, trying to convince him to make music that spoke to the ongoing civil rights movement.

GREG KOT: He said, you know, we can't just talk about the afterlife all the time in our music. We have to talk about what's happening now.

LIMBONG: That's Greg Kot, author of the book "I'll Take You There: Mavis Staples, The Staple Singers And The Music That Shaped The Civil Rights Era." Kot says Pervis got Pops to budge, and they eventually included this version of the song on their 1966 album "This Little Light."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A HARD RAIN'S A-GONNA FALL")

THE STAPLE SINGERS: (Singing) And it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard rain going to fall.

LIMBONG: Pervis Staples was born in Drew, Miss., in 1935. The family eventually moved to Chicago, where Pops Staples would keep his kids occupied by having them sing songs. They eventually became a gospel group, with Pervis originally as the lead.

KOT: But when his voice changed, he became a background vocalist. And Mavis, the youngest of the siblings, took over as the lead vocalist.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNCLOUDY DAY")

THE STAPLE SINGERS: (Singing) Well, well, well, yes, oh, yes, they tell me. Lord, they tell me now, yes, oh, yes.

LIMBONG: In a statement, Mavis Staples said that these years of their childhood were filled with wonderful experiences. Quote, "He liked to think of this period in his life as setting the stage for all that he wanted to do." And he wasn't just a background singer. Kot says Pervis did everything from helping arrange the vocals to driving the group on tour through segregated America to being a bodyguard of sorts for his sisters. He eventually left The Staple Singers and started managing another gospel-turned-secular group, The Emotions.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEBODY WANTS WHAT I GOT")

THE EMOTIONS: (Singing) He loves me when I want it. I tell you he loves me when I need it.

LIMBONG: Pervis Staples was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and earned a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2005, both as part of The Staple Singers, and he remained a constant fixture in Chicago. In the family statement, Mavis Staples said, he was one of the good guys and will live on as a true Chicago legend.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE'VE GOT TO GET OURSELVES TOGETHER")

THE STAPLE SINGERS: (Singing) We've got to get ourselves together. We've got to get ourselves together.

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