The Staple Singers' Cleotha Staples dies at age 78

Fri Feb 22, 2013 8:03pm EST

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(Reuters) - Cleotha Staples, a founding member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame R&B and gospel group The Staple Singers, has died after a decade-long battle with Alzheimer's disease, the group said on Friday. She was 78.

Staples, who died on Thursday at her Chicago home, is best known for singing on the group's 1970s hits, including "I'll Take You There," "Respect Yourself" and "Let's Do It Again."

"We will keep on," Mavis Staples, the group's lead singer, said in a statement. "Yvonne and I will continue singing to keep our father's legacy and our sister's legacy alive."

Mavis, who is known for her raspy voice that gave the group its distinct personality, said she would dedicate her forthcoming album to Cleotha's memory.

The oldest of five children, Staples was born in Drew, Mississippi, to Roebuck "Pops" Staples and Oceola Staples. The family moved to Chicago when Staples was 2 years old in 1936, where sisters Mavis and Yvonne were born.

The Staple Singers, known as "God's greatest hitmakers," were formed in 1948 with Pops on guitar and siblings Mavis, Cleotha, Pervis and Yvonne singing.

The group first played churches in the Midwest and put out their first recording in 1953. Their gospel hits included "On My Way to Heaven," "With the Circle Be Unbroken" and "Pray On."

The family became active in the civil rights movement in 1962 after hearing Martin Luther King Jr. speak while the family was on tour. They are thought to be the first black group to cover Bob Dylan's song "Blowin' in the Wind" in 1963.

The Staples Singers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 and were honored with a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2005.

Cleotha Staples is survived by her sisters Mavis and Yvonne and brother Pervis.

(Reporting by Eric Kelsey, editing by Jill Serjeant and Lisa Shumaker)

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