Pervis Staples, a co-founding member of the legendary gospel group the Staple Singers, died May 6th at his home in Dolton, Illinois. He was 85.
Staples’ death was announced May 12th, with Adam Ayers, a member of Mavis Staples’ management team, confirming his death. A cause was not given. Funeral services will be held on May 17th in Chicago.
Mavis Staples said in a statement, “Pervis was one of a kind — comical and downright fly. 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.”
Pervis Staples was born in November 1935 in Drew, Mississippi, although the family later moved to Chicago. Along with his siblings, Pervis learned gospel music from his father, Roebuck “Pop” Staples, and soon the family was cutting records for a local label, Untied Records. The Staple Singers later signed with Vee Jay Records, which released their earliest hits, like “Uncloudy Day” and a rendition of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
In the group, Pervis sang tenor, backing up Pop alongside Mavis and Cleotha. Early on, many assumed Pervis was the one hitting the low notes on the tunes, although it was actually Mavis. In journalist Greg Kot’s 2014 book about Mavis and the Staple Singers, Pervis recalled, “We’d trick ‘em, The audience would be looking for me to come up with the low part — this was for the people who heard the record but had never seen us before, I’d come up to the mike and switch over at the last second where Cleotha was, then Mavis would step up. That messed them up, but it woke up the crowd.”
Mavis said her brother’s youth was “filled with wonderful experiences,” noting that some of his best friends at the time were Sam Cooke, Lou Rawls, and Jerry Butler. “Pervis and the guys would stand under the lamp posts in the summertime singing doo-wop songs,” she said.
As Pervis watched his friends achieve great success singing R&B and pop, he pushed his father to let the Staple Singers branch out into more secular music. Pop compromised by letting the group sing “message music,” and it was Pervis’ friendship with Bob Dylan — struck up while both acts were on the festival circuit in the early Sixties — that led Pervis and Mavis to record a famous duet of “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.”
Pervis decided to leave the Staple Singers after the group released their first album for Stax, 1968’s Soul Folks in Action. In Kot’s book, Yvonne Staples said, “Pervis left because he didn’t want to listen to Pops all the time, he wanted to do his own thing.” Mavis added, “He had been in the army, and he was standing up for himself as a man. Pervis just got tired of only being thought of as Daddy’s son.”
After leaving the Staple Singers, Pervis began managing a Chicago act, the Hutchinson Sunbeams, who later became the Emotions. He also opened a successful nightclub on Chicago’s Southside, Perv’s House.
Pervis was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame along with the Staple Singers in 1998, while the group received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. He is survived by Mavis, as well as his six children, seven grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.