The year 1971 was a doozy for America. Things seemed on the verge of downright revolution. The war in the Vietnam was raging, as was the protest against that war at home. Everyone, it seemed, was on one side or another, and they blamed the other side for the sorry state of affairs. Come to think of it, that doesn't sound unfamiliar.
But in 1971, there was no internet, no social media. Movies were popular, but hardly a force yet for social change. The three network TV stations were popular, but tightly controlled. There was, that year, another force of influence beyond all others--music. Many of the songs and the singers were American society's moral compass for a few years, its conscience and its guide. And sometimes, a stern voice cautioning that not all of the country's woes were the fault of someone else.
"Respect Yourself" came out in 1971 by the Staple Singers, a gospel group so powerful that they charted several American hits on the Hot 100. That's mainstream American music listeners, a place gospel music rarely goes. But the combination of truly funky musicians (the jaw-dropping Muscle Shoals rhythm section from Alabama, an all-white group of players who sound anything but), the humble voice of Pops Staple and, most of all, the sensuous, soulful pipes of Mavis Staples, made this group part of the American musicial landscape in those years.
This song was penned by Luther Ingram and Mack Rice, when the former said that "black folk need to learn to respect themselves." Though the message may have been aimed at African Americans, it's one that we could all take a very valuable lesson from.
Cleotha Staples, the oldest sister, died Thursday at her home in Chicago. She was 78 years old. May she rest in peace.