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Soul Folk In Action: The Staple Singers
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Soul Folk In Action: The Staple Singers

Their funky gospel-fueled R&B earned The Staple Singers the nickname of "God's Greatest Hitmakers," later sampled by Kanye West, Eazy-E, Lord Finesse, Big Daddy Kane, UGK, among others.

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Before their successful stint on Memphis’ Stax Records, The Staple Singers got together as a family affair. Patriarch Roebuck “Pops” Staples started out as a blues guitarist in Winona, Mississippi. In 1937, he joined gospel group The Golden Trumpets as a guitarist and singer, followed by The Windy City's Trumpet Jubilees after he moved to the city of Chicago four years later. That’s where The Staple Singers was born after his daughters Cleotha, Mavis, Yvonne and his son Pervis joined “Pops” to sing in Mount Zion Church, where Roebuck's brother Chester was the pastor.

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When The Staple Singers joined Vee Jay Records (fun fact, on a completely unrelated note: Vee Jay Records was the first imprint in the US to sign The Beatles) in 1956, their sound was much more grounded in a Southern spiritual style, underlined by Roebuck’s bluesy guitar-playing. Four years later, the group joined Riverside, a label specialized in jazz and folk—a smart move considering the then-flourishing folk scene.

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The Staple Singers (photo courtesy of Stax Archives)
The Staple Singers (photo courtesy of Stax Archives)

In 1965, a few years before landing a deal with Stax Records, the Staples family released two singles on D-Town Records, the Detroit record label founded by Mike Hanks, named after singer Dee Edwards. First up was "Standing At the Bedside of My Neighbor" b/w "I'll Fly Away," followed in the same year by "Tell Him What You Want" b/w "I Will Trust In The Lord."

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Things drastically changed for The Staple Singers with their first two albums on Stax: Soul Folk In Action and We’ll Get Over boasted protest, social commentary, and critique on black exclusion. Disguised as funky, pop-friendly R&B songs. Together with Stax producer (and later sole label owner) Al Bell, they reached pinnacle heights: with “Respect Yourself” (used by Spike Lee for Crooklyn) and "I’ll Take You There" as their biggest hits.

The Curtis Mayfield written song "Let's Do It Again" was their last commercial success in 1975—the year Stax sadly collapsed into bankruptcy. The iconic label left behind a rich legacy with rmusic by the likes of Isaac Hayes, The Dramatics, Johnie Taylor, The Staple Singers, among many others who were part of the Stax era of soul.

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