Cleotha Staples, the eldest sibling of the influential and best-selling gospel group The Staples Singer, died Thursday, February 21. Bill Carpenter, a family friend and music publicist, said the singer who died at age of 78 had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease for the past decade.
When Cleotha died, she was under 24-hour home care. According to Mavis Staples, Cleotha's longtime caretaker was with her when she died at 11:11 A.M. in her high-rise condominium on the South Side, Chicago.
Cleotha was the first child born to Roebuck Staples and his wife, Oceola, in 1934. She was born in Mississipi, but then moved to Chicago. In the late '40s, Roebuck taught his children gospel songs. Soon afterwards, the group was born and invited to perform at churches on the South Side. Two decades later, the group became an unlikely hitmaker for the Stax label.
The Staples Singers, including Cleotha, Pervis, Yvonne, Mavis and Cynthia Staples, became one of the biggest gospel groups of the era with songs such as "On My Way to Heaven", "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and "Uncloudy Day".
Cleotha was the gospel group's backbone for being "strong, silent type," Bill said. "When she was young they used to call her granny because she acted like a granny in terms of being wise and always sure of the best thing to do."
Cleotha was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with her family in 1999 and received a lifetime achievement award from the Grammys in 2005. At the end of her life, Cleotha Staples lived near her sisters Mavis and Yvonne on Chicago's South Side. Bill said the sisters were vigilant caretakers of Cleotha, just as she had been when the sisters were younger.