Albert Ferreira/Associated Press
The Staples Singers in 1999. Pervis, far left; Cleotha, second from left; Pops, center; Mavis, second from right; and Yvonne, far right.
CHICAGO (AP) — Cleotha Staples, the eldest sibling in the influential gospel and rhythm-and-blues group the Staple Singers, died on Thursday at her home here. She was 78.
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Her death was confirmed by Bill Carpenter, a family friend and music publicist. He said that Ms. Staples had Alzheimer’s disease for the last decade.
The Staple Singers were formed in Chicago when the Mississippi-born singer and guitarist Roebuck Staples, better known as Pops, began teaching gospel songs to his children, Cleotha, Pervis, Yvonne, Mavis and Cynthia, to keep them entertained in the evenings. Mr. Staples and all his children except Cynthia began performing professionally and recording after singing together in church in 1948.
The Staple Singers became one of the biggest gospel groups of the era with songs like “On My Way to Heaven” and “Uncloudy Day.” Pops and Mavis Staples handled most of the lead vocals.
They became unlikely pop stars after they were signed by Stax Records in the late 1960s. Adopting a more contemporary sound and focusing on social rather than explicitly religious messages, they had a string of Top 40 hits, including “I’ll Take You There,” which spent a week at No. 1 on the Billboard pop singles chart in 1972.
Cleotha Staples was born on April 11, 1934, in Drew, Miss., the first child of Pops and Oceola Staples. Two years later, the family moved to Chicago.
Ms. Staples was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with her family in 1999. The Staple Singers received a lifetime achievement Grammy Award in 2005.