Cleotha Staples: A Death In The Family

The Staples Singers are a big part of Chicago.  They are part of our family.  The oldest sibling, Cleo, died yesterday.  There are some broken hearts here at XRT because of our deep love and appreciation of the members of that family.  They are generous of spirit and have made us feel like part of their family.  This city is richer for having the Staples family call it home.  Pops died in 2000.  Pops and his wife Osceola have called their eldest child home.  That voice has gone to join her parents and beloved sister Cynthia.   Cleotha was 78.  She has not been well for years.  But even when you see it coming it’s never easy.  Our hearts go out to Mavis, Yvonne and Pervis.  They have lost their big sister, Cleedie.

Somebody had better be writing the book on this family.  What an amazing journey from their home in Chicago where Pops taught his children how to sing, to their career as one of the foremost gospel groups in the world.  When Pops hooked up with a young Dr. Martin Luther King Junior he was asked to take this gospel message into the world of R&B and popular music to spread the word of the civil rights message.  That took the family to an amazing string of records from Respect Yourself to I’ll Take You There.  They traveled the gospel circuit, the folk festivals and the big halls as R&B hit makers.  I first saw them live at the Auditorium Theatre in 1971 opening for the Bee Gees.  I couldn’t make that up.  It really happened.  I was totally moved by the gospel feel of their hits.  Made me want to go back and hear the earlier stuff.  It’s a musical journey that continues into the 21st century.  Cleo and her siblings and Father saw Jim Crow racism, but it never broke their spirit or pushed them to hatred.  Cleo and her family sang in churches, outdoor venues and festivals, Las Vegas clubs, and the Soul Train studios.   They stole the show on the Band’s film The Last Waltz.  Cleo’s in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame with her family.

I never had the privilege of knowing Cleo.  Always admired her from a distance.  But getting to know her sisters has been one of the joys of my life.  Not because of their careers, their fame and all that.  But because Mavis and Yvonne are two of the most remarkable people, famous or not, that I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.  I’m so proud of Mavis’ recent success and the way she continues to touch the souls of so many people of all generations.  She brings the joy!  My precious dog Vonnie is named in tribute to Yvonne and my affection for the two sisters.  I know how much they loved their big sister and worried about her health.  Those of us who have lost a sibling know the unique sense of loss at the death of someone who knows you better than anyone.  Someone you grew up with.  And in this case, someone you traveled the world with.  When my Mother died last summer, Mavis wrote me the most consoling letter.  She brought me great comfort at a painful time.  I hope Mavis and Yvonne and Pervis are feeling the love and comfort from their XRT family and all the fans they have in this city .  They are family.  We share in their grief and send love and prayers to them all.  God bless Cleotha Staples.  God bless her loving family.  There’s a beter home a waitin’ in the sky, Lord, in the sky.  Rest in peace, Cleo.  You and your beautiful voice will be missed.

Will The Circle Be Unbroken – A.P. Carter

I was standing by my window,
On one cold and cloudy day
When I saw that hearse come rolling
For to carry my mother away

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, Lord, by and by
There’s a better home a-waiting
In the sky, Lord, in the sky

I said to that undertaker
Undertaker please drive slow
For this lady you are carrying
Lord, I hate to see here go

Oh, I followed close behind her
Tried to hold up and be brave
But I could not hide my sorrow
When they laid her in the grave

I went back home, my home was lonesome
Missed my mother, she was gone
All of my brothers, sisters crying
What a home so sad and lone

We sang the songs of childhood
Hymns of faith that made us strong
Ones that Mother Maybelle taught us
Hear the angels sing along

Will the circle be unbroken
By and by, Lord, by and by
There’s a better home a-waiting
In the sky, Lord, in the sky

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