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in a lifetime of 85 years, BrotherMan Pops Staples reflected back
to us with his music, a son and three daughters, our living evolving
were blessed to have him in our presence for so long a time. He
was born under the yoke of Jim Crow and segregation, one of fourteen
children. He and his family spent hours in someone else's cotton
fields, using their bodies to earn their bread.
to keep their spiritual life in the service of a higher power
than any "boss man," every night after the dinner the
family would gather on the porch and sing God's praises. Their
music provided safety and a place of hope to a people who were
living the experience of watching their dreams, and the dreams
of their children, once again deferred.
was also a part of the historical time in African American history
when Black people considered the North as the Promise Land (now
this "Northern Oasis" is referred to as "Up South").
But in the 1950s, it was known as a place of promise and
hope, and Pops brought his family from the Mississippi Delta to
the city of Chicago. He would find his hopes and grow into his
promise, but not in the factories or meat packing industry, but
right in his own growing family. We as a nation and a people would
be blessed for three decades with his musical style combining
gospel and blues, now known as "message music."
the 1960s Pop would join the "movement" and work
with such people as Martin Luther King and the SCLC, along with
Sister Rosa Parks, Brother Bob Moses, Brother James Baldwin and
Sister Ruby Doris Robinson Smith, among so many others. And Pops
would continue to ask this question in song until he left us,
"Why Am I Treated So Bad?"
question has not been answered until this hour. His daughter Mavis
recalls that he wrote that song as a response to watching nine
African American children exercise their rights as U.S. citizens
to attend a public school of their choice and having to be escorted
by the National Guard in Little Rock, Arkansas, as they were spat
on and jeered for their audacity to think that equal rights meant
rights for them.
Pops would not stop there, he would challenge "all peoples"
to move through the racial nightmare which we as a country found
ourselves living through, and to start to look not only for common
ground, but higher ground.
the 1970s, he and his family created a musical roadmap
for us with such hits as "Reach Out, Touch a Hand,"
"I'll Take You There," "Respect Yourself"
and "If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)." His
music provided guidance in that particular time in American history
when we as a nation just might be able to finally honor the words
of the founding fathers, "E Pluribus Unum" -- out
of many, one.
Pops, even as he dreamed, was also realistic as well as prophetic.
So in the early 1980s, the songs of The Staple Singers
would also warn us of what we as a people were about to endure,
"watching leaves falling off the family tree,"
a lament that has come to pass, as we watch the acceptance of
a permanent underclass, the growth of the prison industrial complex,
families who are now being ravaged by drugs, police brutality,
substandard health services and loss of living wage jobs.
his last decade, the 1990s, he would prepare his report
to the ancestors, in a work that would earn him his second Grammy.
The work, Father, Father, is where he reported on what
he saw in his lifetime, bore witness to, and had been a part of
the struggle to change.
am sure that the "sheros" and heroes such as Ida B.
Wells, Martin Luther King Jr., James Baldwin and many others welcomed
him to his long earned rest with the words, "Let Him In."
family, led by its patriarch, Roebuck "Pops" Staples,
for 48 years until his death shortly before his 86th birthday
in 2000, recorded such hits as "I'll Take You There,"
"If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)" and "Respect
Yourself," as well as such spiritual anthems of the Civil
Rights movement as "Why Am I Treated So Bad."
Staple Singers have received seven gold and six platinum records
and performed in the White House for three presidents: Clinton,
Carter and Kennedy. They performed in the films "Watts Stax"
and "Save the Children," among others, and Mr. Staples
appeared as a solo performer in the film "Wag the Dog"
81 years old, Pops Staples garnered a 1994 Grammy Award for Best
Contemporary Blues Album for his solo album, "Father, Father."
In 1999, The Staple Singers were inducted into the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame, and Mr. Staples was named a 1998 National Heritage
Fellow in the folk and traditional arts by the National Endowment
for the Arts.
July 1999, The Staple Singers performed in Brooklyn, New York
as part of the free, outdoor "Rhythm and Blues" concert
series. Although Mr. Staples was too ill to attend, the concert,
with daughters Mavis, Cleotha and Yvonne Staples, was filmed for
BrotherMen. Led by Mavis, the group continues the musical tradition
taught to them by their father.
Michael Eric Dyson wrote in Vibe: "Mavis Staples -- whose
sensuous, sweet-husky gospel alto is one of pop's most distinctive
voices -- can blow away 95 percent of the competition just by
an interview conducted following the concert, The Staple Singers
share the story of their family's migration from Mississippi to
Chicago and their beginnings in gospel, as well as their involvement
with the Civil Rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
as performers and activists.
archival interviews and performances with Pops Staples shortly
before his death provide an emotional, political and social context
as to the power that this music continues to exert within the