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Pervis Staples, Founding Member of the Staple Singers, Dead at 85

·2 min read

Albert Ferreira/AP/Shutterstock Pervis Staples     

Pervis Staples, one of the founding members of the legendary gospel group the Staple Singers, has died. He was 85.

The singer died on May 6 at his home in Dolton, Illinois, Adam Ayers, a spokesperson for his sister Mavis Staples, told the Associated Press on Wednesday. A cause of death was not given.

"Pervis was one of a kind — comical and downright fly," Mavis, the lone survivor of the family's musical group, said in a statement to Rolling Stone. "He would want to be remembered as an upright man, always willing to help and encourage others. He was one of the good guys and will live on as a true Chicago legend."

Though he was born on November 18, 1935, in Drew, Mississippi, Pervis grew up in Chicago, where his family relocated shortly following his birth. 

Pervis and his sisters — Cleotha, Mavis and Yvonne — learned gospel music from their guitar-playing father, Roebuck "Pops" Staples, and began performing as a group dubbed the Staple Singers in local churches during the late 1940s, according to The Guardian.

Gilles Petard/Redferns

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Under Vee Jay Records, the family recorded notable hits such as "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and "Uncloudy Day."

The Staple Singers went on to produce gospel music with Checker Records, Riverside Records, and Epic Records throughout the 1960s, gaining fans such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Bob Dylan.

It was Pervis who got the group to start focusing on secular music after introducing Dylan, whom he met playing the same musical festivals, to his father, according to NPR.

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Despite the group's success, Pervis left Staple Singers after the release of 1968's Soul Folk in Action.

"Pervis left because he didn't want to listen to Pops all the time, he wanted to do his own thing," his sister Yvonne said in Greg Kot's 2014 book, I'll Take You There: Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers, and the Music That Shaped the Civil Rights Era.

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"He had been in the army, and he was standing up for himself as a man," Mavis told Kot. "Pervis just got tired of only being thought of as Daddy's son."

After his departure, Pervis started managing the Hutchinson Sunbeams, who later became the Emotions. He also opened his own nightclub called Perv's.

Pervis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his family in 1999, and received a lifetime achievement award from the Grammys in 2005 as part of the Staple Singers.