Yvonne Staples, who provided background baritone vocals for the Staple Singers, died on Tuesday at her home in Chicago. She was 80.
She died of colon cancer, family friend Bill Carpenter told The New York Times.
Staples helped her family’s gospel, soul and R&B group reach the top of the music charts in the 1970s with 1972’s “I’ll Take You There,” which reached number one shortly after bursting onto the scene with 1971’s “Respect Yourself,” which reached number 2 on the Billboard charts. The group had another number 1 hit in 1975 with “Let’s Do It Again.”
While singing backup on the family’s tracks, she took the lead in managing its business affairs.
“She was very content in that role,” said Carpenter, the author of Uncloudy Day: The Gospel Music Encyclopedia. “She had no desire to be a front singer, even though people in the family told her she had a great voice.”
“She was very no nonsense but at the same time had a heart of gold,” Carpenter said. “But when it came to business she was very strict. If this is what the contract said, this is what you better do.”
The group consisted of Yvonne and her sisters Mavis and Cleotha along with their father, guitarist Roebuck “Pops” Staples. Yvonne replaced her brother, Pervis, in the group in 1971 when he left for military service.
The Staple Singers toured the South and became active in the civil rights movement, traveling with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Yvonne performed the same duty for her sister Mavis when she began a solo career in the ’80s, singing background vocals and managing her tour until recently. Carpenter said she was “pretty much retired” at the time of her death.
Carpenter said Yvonne preferred to stay out of the spotlight.
“She didn’t want to talk about her own singing,” Carpenter said. “She said ‘Mavis is the star. Mavis is the voice.’ She never cared about attention for herself.”
The Staple Singers were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 and received a lifetime achievement award at the 2005 Grammy Awards. They also received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation’s Pioneer Award.
With Yvonne’s death, the only surviving member of the Staple Singers is Mavis, 78. Roebuck Staples died in 2000 and Cleotha Staples died in 2013.