It has been a sad week in the world of Soul music. The music world lost the woman that soul legend James Brown referred to as Soul Sister #1, Marva Whitney. Whitney was Brown’s longtime collaborator and is most famous for her song, “”It’s My Thing,” which made the Billboard Hot 100 and was widely sampled by other artists including The 45 Kings, DJ Kool, Mac Miller and rap legends Salt ‘n Pepa.
Born Marva Ann Manning, the artist began her career performing gospel music in Kansas City but found fame when she reluctantly joined the James Brown Revue in 1967 after turning down singing jobs with Bobby Bland and Little Richard.
“There was nothing here in Kansas City, so I had to make a decision at that age,” she said in a 2006 interview on We Funk Radio. “I knew this wasn’t what I wanted, because I was still playing for the church. But I made the decision and went to Cincinnati and signed with King Records.”
On tour with the Revue, Whitney performed in Vietnam, Europe and North Africa over the next couple of years. Along the way, Whitney cut several “raw funk” songs under Brown’s direction, including “Unwind Yourself” and “I’m Tired, I’m Tired, I’m Tired,” though none broke through with audiences until “It’s My Thing,” her take on the Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing.” The song was a hit on the R&B charts.
During her tenure in the Revue, Whitney was dubbed “Soul Sister #1” to Brown’s “Soul Brother #1” title. Other “Original Funky Divas” in Brown’s group over the years included Vicki Anderson, who Whitney replaced, and Lyn Collins, who died in 2005.
While a cause of death has not been reported, it is believed that Whitney died of complications from pneumonia. She was 68.
Born in St. Louis in June 1940, Bass first reached ears earlier in 1965 with the successful single “Don’t Mess With A Good Thing,”with Bobby McClure. “Rescue Me” topped the R&B charts for a month and held steady in the top five of the pop charts as well.
Bass’ first record, The New Look, was released in 1966 by Chess Records. While she never found another hit like “Rescue Me,” she continued to record throughout the Seventies. In 2001, she teamed up with the Voices of St. Louis for her last record, Travellin’.
In 1993, Bass won a settlement against American Express and its advertising agency for using “Rescue Me” in an ad without proper permission.
Bass was 72.