Staples held the group together both on the vocal high end as the soprano of the group and as an organizer, often being called "grandma" by her sisters and brother.
Cleotha was the eldest daughter of Roebuck "Pops" Staples and his wife Oceola and was born on a sharecroppers farm in Drew, MS. Shortly after her birth, Pops moved to Chicago to work in the stockyards, and soon brought the rest of his growing family north. Before the 30's were over, the couple added son Pervis (b. 1935) and daughters Yvonne (b. 1936) and Mavis (b. 1939) to their brood.
During the 40's, Pops started playing guitar and teaching music to his children ending with their beginning to sing at Chicago-area churches in 1948. Four years later, they signed with United Records and recorded their first music, garnering notice in their home city. Over the next 13 years, they would record for a series of labels including Vee-Jay, Checker, Riverside and Epic with their music scoring well on the Gospel charts.
It was at the last label that they started to move from gospel to more secular material and had regional success with a few singles. In 1968, they move to Stax where they would have their greatest success, finally going national in 1971 with Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom-Boom) (#6 R&B/#27 Pop).
Over the next five years, the group would have eight more top ten R&B hits two of which, I'll Take You There (1972) and Let's Do It Again (1975) would also top the Pop charts.
Post-1975, the group only had occasional minor hits although they remained in the public eye with numerous tours. In 1999, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and, the next year, Pops Staples died from complications of a concussion. In 2005, the group was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Cleotha is survived by her two sisters and one brother.