Staples Jr. Singers
The Staples Jr. Singers were part of a vanguard of soul gospel artists in the 1970s that broke from tradition to testify with the groove.
Like many gospel groups at the time, the Staples Jr. Singers were a family band: Annie, A.R.C., and Edward Brown from Aberdeen, Mississippi. They were just teenagers when they started, in 1971—they named themselves after their idols (the Staple Singers, if we need to spell it out for you)—and they built a reputation by playing school talent shows and front yards near their hometown on the banks of the Tombigbee River, until they eventually began touring with regional acts on the gospel circuit.
Every weekend, they would pile into their family van and travel across the Bible Belt, performing sometimes as many as three shows in a single day. Back then, the South was desegregated on paper but not always in practice, and the Staples Jr. Singers weren’t always sure what kind of welcome they would receive—whether a new audience would embrace them, whether local restaurants would serve them.
Edward remembers one trip to a small town outside of Birmingham, where the band tried to get a bite to eat before their program started. “We couldn’t understand,” he said. “We sat there and waited. Everybody who came in would step before us. And finally there was a lady there, she came to us and said, ‘They gave me the message to tell y’all we’re not gonna feed y’all. Y’all are going to have to leave here.’” But there was a little store down the road that sold us some cold cuts. We went on to that store and God made that food taste just as good as that restaurant.”
The Browns got their big break in 1975, when a traveling gospel singer Joe Orr introduced them to a man who ran a now long gone recording studio in Tupelo—like a figure from a parable, he only went by the name of Big John. At the time, Annie was only 14, A.R.C was 15, and Edward was 16—and they drew inspiration straight from their lives.
“It was kind of like some of the things that my parents were going through,” said Annie. “They didn’t have much, but the little they had, they tried to take care of the family. My daddy used to work, come home and make sure that we had food, clothes on our back, and a place over our head. So, those songs had the meaning of some of the things that we were going through.”
They sold the records themselves, sometimes after their shows, other times right out of their childhood home. “People used to come by—and people liked our style that we had back then,” said Edward, “we had our own style of music right there.”
Studious listeners may recognize the Staples Jr. Singers from our critically acclaimed compilation World Spirituality Classics 2: The Time for Peace Is Now – Gospel Music About Us (2019), which features their single “We’ve Got a Race to Run” (and also, we might add, was listed among the best re-issues in 2019 by Uncut, NPR, and Pitchfork (8.5), among many others). You might also recognize the lead singer Annie Brown Caldwell from the 2020 Vinyl Factory documentary “The Time For Peace Is Now,” talking about soul gospel.
This project from Luaka Bop, to introduce a remastered version of When Do We Get Paid to listeners outside Mississippi and beyond the gospel circuit, is a continuation of our soul gospel series, which also includes Pastor Champion’s I Just Want To Be a Good Man (April 2022).
Forty years, three generations, and countless performances later, the original members of the Staples Jr. Singers are still on the circuit, performing almost every weekend with their families. Though they don’t go by the Staples Jr. Singers anymore—they changed their name to the Brown Singers in the late 70s, then marriage made two bands out of one: Annie Brown Caldwell formed a gospel dynasty of her own, the Caldwell Singers, with her husband and daughters. This coming year, the original members of the Staples Jr. Singers will be heading on tour to support this release, playing select shows in the U.S. and Europe in 2022, for what will surely be one of the best performances that you’ll see all year.
While the Browns and Caldwells have written an entire catalog of gospel music since the era of When Do We Get Paid, for the Staples Jr. Singers, the incantatory funk of this music still holds the power to help make a way out of dark and troubled times.