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Marva Whitney, R&B singer with James Brown, dies at 68

December 24, 2012|By Randy Lewis
  • Singer Marva Whitney performs with James Brown in an undated photo.
Singer Marva Whitney performs with James Brown in an undated photo. (Facebook.com/MarvaWhitney )

Marva Whitney, the R&B-funk singer who died Saturday at age 68, according to her official Facebook page, toured with the James Brown Revue from 1967 to 1970, and briefly held the spotlight on her own with three hits she charted in 1969. Rolling Stone reports the cause of death as complications from pneumonia.

Whitney, whom Brown called "Soul Sister No. 1," got her biggest hit with a response to the Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing,” a song she delivered as “It’s My Thing (You Can’t Tell Me Who to Sock It To).”

"We're saddened to inform you that Soulsister #1 Marva Whitney passed away last night," the post that went up Sunday said. "She left us with a legacy that will shine forever. Please keep her family in your prayers."

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Like many 1960s and '70s R&B artists, the Kansas City, Kan.-born singer found her music turning up in rap musicians’ records decades later. Public Enemy, among others, sampled “It’s My Thing” in “Bring the Noise,” and other rap acts sampled her track "Unwind Yourself."

When she was in a store and heard her music in DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat,” she told Village Voice in 2010 that her reaction was, “Oh no, they’ve ripped me off again.

"Here I am, pinching pennies, and they're making millions," said Whitney, who was born Marva Ann Manning. "I can't get any response from them. I just wish somebody would tell the truth."

The irony is that Whitney’s "It's My Thing" not only answered the Isleys’ hit from just a few months earlier in 1969 but it also lifted the rhythmic groove and lyric hooks. Still, Wright invested it with a spirit all her own, as can be seen here in a video clip from the period.

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Follow Randy Lewis on Twitter: @RandyLewis2 

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