Roebuck “Pops” Staples (December 28, 1914 – December 19, 2000) was an American gospel and R&B musician.
A “pivotal figure in gospel in the 1960s and 70s,”he was an accomplished songwriter, guitarist and singer. He was the patriarch and member of singing group The Staple Singers, which included his son Pervis and daughters Mavis, Yvonne, and Cleotha.
Roebuck Staples was born on a cotton plantation near Winona, Mississippi, the youngest of 14 children. When growing up he heard, and began to play with, local blues guitarists such as Charlie Patton (who lived on the nearby Dockery Plantation), Robert Johnson, and Son House. He dropped out of school after the eighth grade, then sang with a gospel group before marrying and moving to Chicago in 1935.
There he sang with the Trumpet Jubilees while working in the stockyards, in construction work, and later in a steel mill. In 1948 Roebuck and his wife Oceola Staples formed The Staple Singers to sing as a gospel group in local churches, with their children. The Staple Singers first recorded in the early 1950s for United and then the larger Vee-Jay Records, with songs including 1955’s “This May Be the Last Time” (later covered by The Rolling Stones as “The Last Time”) and “Uncloudy Day”
In the 1960s the Staple Singers moved to Riverside Records and later Stax Records, and began recording protest, inspirational and contemporary music, reflecting the civil rights and anti-war movements of the time. They gained a large new audience with “Respect Yourself” (which featured Pops, nearly 57 at the time, on lead on the long version for more than two minutes), the 1972 US # 1 hit “I’ll Take You There”, “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)”, and other hits. “Let’s Do It Again” topped the Hot 100 on December 27, 1975, the day before his 61st birthday. Pops Staples also recorded a blues album, Jammed Together, with fellow guitarists Albert King and Steve Cropper.
In 1976, Staples also appeared in the movie documenting The Band’s final concert, The Last Waltz (released in 1978). Pops Staples shared vocals with his daughters and with Levon Helm and Rick Danko on “The Weight.” The group appeared in the concert on stage, but their later performance shot on a soundstage was used in the final film. It is considered by some fans as the definitive version of the song.
After Mavis left for a solo career in the 1980s, Pops Staples began a solo career, appearing at international “blues” festivals (though steadfastly refusing to sing the blues), and tried his hand at acting. His 1992 album Peace to the Neighborhood won a Grammy nomination, and in 1995 he won a Best Contemporary Blues Album Grammy for Father, Father.
In 1986, Roebuck played the role of Mr. Tucker, a voodoo witch doctor, in the Talking Heads film True Stories, during which he performed “Papa Legba”. He appeared as himself in the 1997 Barry Levinson film Wag the Dog, singing “Good Old Shoe” with Willie Nelson.
In 1998 he received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 1999 the Staple Singers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
He died after suffering a concussion in a fall at his home, just nine days short of his 86th birthday. After his death, his daughters Yvonne and Mavis gave one of his guitars to country and gospel musician Marty Stuart