The title song to The Staple Singers’ 1965 album Freedom Highway was written by Roebuck “Pops” Staples, the patriarch and leader of the first family of gospel that included Pops and his daughters Cleotha, Purvis, Yvonne and Mavis. Pops learned to play guitar at a young age and in the mid-Thirties was playing with the Golden Trumpets, based in Mississippi. In 1941 he and his wife, Oceola, moved north to Chicago, and Pops started to pefform in the Trumpet Jubilees. As their children got older, the Staples formed a family gospel group, performing in churches around the Midwest and began recording in 1952. After their breakthrough single “Uncloudy Day,” the Staples began to evolve their gospel-folk and R&B style, going on to release now classic R&B songs like “Respect Yourself,” “I’ll Take You There,” along with politically conscious songs like the civil rights-era anthem, “Freedom Highway,” written about the 50 mile walk that took place from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and the marchers were attacked by Alabama state troopers and armed groups of people.
One of Rhiannon Giddens’ main inspirations were The Staple Singers. The title song to her 2017 album was the Pops Staples-penned “Freedom Highway,” Giddens performed it during a session for World Cafe..