Soul songstress and James Brown’s revue member, Marva Whitney (pictured), passed away on Saturday at the age of 68 from complications of pneumonia, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Whitney, whose actual name was Marva Ann Manning, cut her chops singing in her hometown of Kansas City in gospel choirs and some local R&B groups. But it was not until Brown asked her to join his revue as a featured vocalist in 1967 that she finally gained a following.
Nicknamed “Soul Sister No. 1,” Whitney toured the world with Brown and his band and got to see and experience such places as Vietnam, North Africa and Europe, places she had only dreamed about. Even though she was part of a revue, Whitney actually stepped away for a minute to release some singles of her own.
Under Brown’s direction, Whitney cut a few pure funk singles including “Unwind Yourself” (1968). Though it was not a chart buster, the song has been sampled by numerous rappers; Mac Miller sampled it on his 2011 track “Party on Fifth Avenue.”
In 1969, Whitney had finally made a true name for herself with the hit single “It’s My Thing (You Can’t Tell Me Who To Sock It To),” which was a response to The Isley Brothers smash, “It’s Your Thing.” Whitney had other smaller subsequent hit singles: “I Made A Mistake Because It’s Only You Pt. 1,” “I’m Tired, I’m Tired, I’m Tired (Things Better Change Before It’s Too Late)” and “If You Don’t Work (You Can’t Eat).”
Whitney recorded three albums under Brown’s watchful eye as producer, writer and co-writer. She left Brown’s stable in 1970.
Whitney then moved onto The Isley Brothers recording label, T-Neck, then Forte Records. She put out a few singles but none really made it big, so she decided to give the music biz a rest.
In the early 80s, Whitney was bitten by the singing bug and made the decision to join the singing group “Coffee, Cream & Sugar” formed by Alfred “Pico” Payne, a former Ink Spot singing group member. Whitney then went back to Brown’s camp and performed background singing as a JB Allstar, which featured some of his most prominent musical performers such as Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley and Lyn Collins.
In 2009, Whitney suffered a stroke while performing on a stage in Australia. She managed to pull through and continued to perform sporadically throughout 2010.