Pervis Staples, Staple Singers co-founder, dies aged 85

A funeral is scheduled for May 17

Pervis Staples, a co-founding member of the iconic gospel group The Staple Singers, has died aged 85.

Rolling Stone confirmed Staples’ passing with Adam Ayers, a member of Mavis Staples’ management team. Pervis died at his home in Dolton, Illinois on May 6, with no cause given. A funeral has been scheduled for May 17th in Chicago.

Mavis Staples gave a statement on Pervis’ death to Rolling Stone, calling him “one of a kind — comical and downright fly”.

“He would want to be remembered as an upright man, always willing to help and encourage others. He was one of the good guys and will live on as a true Chicago legend.”

Pervis’ late father Roebuck “Pops” Staples founded the Staple Singers with his children Mavis, Pervis, Cleotha and Yvonne in 1948. Their first performances were in churches around Chicago, singing predominantly gospel. The Staple Singers signed their first professional contract in 1952, recording early hits like ‘Uncloudy Day’ – a reported influence on Bob Dylan.

It wasn’t until signing to Epic that the group moved to the more mainstream soul and R&B that would bring them wider fame. Their biggest hits came in the 1970s while signed to Stax Records, releasing ‘Respect Yourself’, ‘Let’s Do It Again’ (hitting number one in the US), and appearing with The Band in Martin Scorcese’s The Last Waltz.

Pervis Staples was born in November 1935 in Drew, Mississippi, before the family moved to Chicago. Mavis Staples described his upbringing in a further statement to Rolling Stone, remembering him hanging out with Sam Cooke, Lou Rawls, and Jerry Butler.

“Pervis and the guys would stand under the lamp posts in the summertime singing doo-wop songs,” she said.

Pervis left the Staple Singers before their biggest successes, following the release of ‘Soul Folks in Action’ in 1968. Rolling Stone quotes Mavis Staples as explaining Pervis’ departure as wanting to prove himself outside his father’s shadow.

“He had been in the army, and he was standing up for himself as a man. Pervis just got tired of only being thought of as Daddy’s son.”

Pervis was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame along with the Staple Singers in 1998, and  the group received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.

The group is now survived only by Mavis Staples, after Pops died in 2000, Cleotha in 2013, and most recently Yvonne in 2018. Pervis is survived by his six children, seven grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.