At Stax, the Staples enjoyed a run of Top Forty hits, becoming known as “God’s greatest hitmakers” with such songs as “Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom Boom Yeah)” (1971), “This World” (1972), “Oh La De Da” (1973), “Touch A Hand, Make A Friend” (1974) and “City in the Sky” (1974). The iconic million-seller “I’ll Take You There” spent a week at Number One on the Billboard pop singles chart and four weeks at that spot on the R&B singles chart. The group also earned two other million-sellers at Stax with “Respect Yourself” (1971) and “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” (1973).
Although Pops and Mavis usually handled vocal leads on Staple Singers songs, Cleotha was featured with Eddie Floyd (of “Knock on Wood” fame) on “It’s Too Late” from the 1969 Stax Records duets LP Boy Meets Girl. Her velvety soprano was powerful and dynamic on the bluesy ballad about a lost love. She also appeared with her family’s group in Ghana in 1971 at the Soul To Soul concert, appearing along with Wilson Pickett, Ike & Tina Turner and Santana; at the historic 1972 Wattstax festival in Los Angeles and in Martin Scorsese’s landmark 1978 concert film “The Last Waltz,” in which Ms. Staples and her family sang “The Weight” with The Band. The Soul To Soul concert and the Wattstax Festival, known as “the Black Woodstock,” have both been the subject of recent documentaries
The Staple Singers moved to Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label in the mid-1970’s, where they scored another number one smash, “Let’s Do It Again,” in December 1975 before signing with Warner Bros. Records. Cleotha’s last recordings were with the Staple Singers for backing sessions on Abbey Lincoln’s Devil Got Your Tongue CD (1993) and Pops Staples’ two solo albums, Peace To The Neighborhood (1992) and the GRAMMY Award-winning Father Father (1994). After Pops died in 2000, the Staple Singers ceased to perform as a group. Ms. Staples was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with her family in 1999 and also received a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. Cleotha is survived by her siblings Pervis, Yvonne and Mavis, her dedicated caretakers Penny and Sushi, and a loving and wonderful extended family of nieces, nephews and treasured friends.