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5/16/21-Pervis Staples Dies

todayMay 16, 2021

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By Alex Traub

Pervis Staples, who sang harmony and also provided quieter forms of support during the rise to gospel stardom of his family’s group, the Staple Singers, died on May 6 at his home in Dolton, Ill. He was 85.

The death was confirmed by Adam Ayers, a spokesman for Mr. Staples’s sister, Mavis Staples. Mr. Ayers did not specify the cause.

Pervis Staples joined two of his sisters, Cleotha and Mavis, and their father, Roebuck Staples, known as Pops, on travels through the gospel circuit in the late 1950s and ’60s. Their sound was heavily influenced by the Delta blues that Roebuck had learned during his youth in rural Mississippi. Roebuck and Mavis were the lead vocalists; Cleotha and Pervis sang harmony.

At a time when performers like Bobby Womack and Curtis Mayfield were starting their careers singing hymns and spirituals, the Staples were gospel stars. They performed in their Sunday best, with Pervis and Roebuck wearing matching dark suits and shiny alligator shoes while Cleotha and Mavis wore bridesmaids’ dresses.

In an interview with Greg Kot for his 2014 biography of Mavis Staples, “I’ll Take You There,” Pervis compared their effect on ecstatic church audiences to “a miracle or the hand of God.”

The group contributed to the soundtrack of the civil rights movement, touring with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and recording some of Bob Dylan’s more political songs.

But by that time, Pervis had left to pursue his own ventures.

He tried his hand as an agent, representing the R&B group, the Emotions, and opened Perv’s Place, a nightclub in Chicago that was popular in the mid-1970s, before the rise of disco.

He rejoined the family group when they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

Pervis Staples was born on Nov. 18, 1935, in Drew, in western Mississippi, and raised in Chicago. His father shoveled fertilizer in stockyards and laid bricks before putting the family vocal group together. Pervis’s mother, Oceola (Ware) Staples, worked as a maid and laundress at a hotel.

He attended grammar school with the future singing stars Sam Cooke and Lou Rawls. After class, Pervis and his friends would practice singing under street lamps and in Cooke’s basement. The boys had voices so sweet, “they could make the mice come down the pole and watch,” he told Mr. Kot.

When Roebuck Staples formed the Staple Singers in 1948, Pervis sang second lead and hit the high notes. He was replaced as second lead by Mavis when his voice dropped an octave during puberty.

Pervis Staples graduated from Dunbar Vocational High School in 1954. He was drafted into the Army in 1958 and honorably discharged in 1960.

Another sister, Yvonne, replaced Pervis when he left the Staple Singers. After Perv’s Place closed, he remained active in the music business.

Mr. Staples’s two marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his sister Mavis, who is now the last surviving member of the Staple Singers, as well as five daughters, Gwen Staples, Reverly Staples, Perleta Sanders, Paris Staples and Eala Sams; a son, Pervis; seven grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

Written by: Barry Scott

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