She was best known for the smooth and velvety voice she possessed in the best-selling gospel group that was started by her father, Roebuck “Pops” Staples in the 1940s. The group included sisters Pervis, Yvonne, Mavis and Cynthia, but Cleotha was the backbone, defining herself by being the “strong, silent type.”
“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,” said family friend and music publicist Bill Carpenter.
The Staple Singers gained a huge audience with their first No. 1 hit “I’ll Take You There” in 1972 and followed with top 40 hits “Respect Yourself,” ”Heavy Makes You Happy,” and “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me).”
“Cleedi,” as she was also called, 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. Carpenter said the sisters were vigilant caretakers of Cleotha, just as she had been when the sisters were younger.