A "pivotal figure in gospel in the 1960s and 70s," he was an accomplished songwriter, guitarist and singer. He was the patriarch and member of singing group The Staple Singers, which included his son Pervis and daughters Mavis, Yvonne, and Cleotha.
Roebuck Staples was born on a cotton plantation near Winona, Mississippi, the youngest of 14 children. When growing up he heard, and began to play with, local blues guitarists such as Charlie Patton, who lived on the nearby Dockery Plantation, Robert Johnson, and Son House. He dropped out of school after the eighth grade, and sang with a gospel group before marrying and moving to Chicago in 1935.