Marva Whitney

Kansas City, US
Artist / Band / Musician
Funk / Soul / R&B
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When it comes to feisty femme funk or sassy sock-it-to-em soul, mighty Marva Whitney has no equal.

Blessed with a lithe yet powerful church-raised voice, she first made her mark with the James Brown Revue in the late-1960s. Such was her impact during that time that she earned the titles "Marvellous Marva" and "Miss Excitement" for her dynamic stage performances. James Brown even went so far as to proclaim her "Soul Sister 1". Many of the records she cut while she was the Godfather Of Soul's protégé are now extremely rare and eagerly sought after by Rare Groove disciples, who regard Marva as the funkiest of all James Brown's female singers. By the mid-60s she had became lead singer for a local R&B group called Tommy and The Derbys. At the end of April 1967, James Brown visited Kansas again to play at the Memorial Hall. After the gig ended and the hall had cleared, Brown's bandleader, Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis, brought Marva onto the stage and went through some songs with her. He was evidently impressed by her audition and strongly urged The Godfather to hire the 23-year-old singer.

By May, Marva was riding on the Brown tour bus. She also signed to the funk meister's record company, the Cincinnati-based King label, and in early summer began cutting tracks. James Brown was actually absent from her first studio session, which yielded the debut single, Your Love Was Good To Me. In June 1967, Marva joined Brown and his entourage at Harlem's legendary Apollo Theatre, where Soul Brother 1 recorded his second landmark in-concert album, Live At The Apollo Volume II. She duetted with Brown on the album's energetic opener, Think.

Brown decided to take Marva in a radically different direction and masterminded her recording of a tune called Unwind Yourself. Marva toured incessantly with James Brown throughout 1968. In March, she ventured as far as Africa's Ivory Coast before embarking on a tour of the Far East in June, where after stops in Korea and Japan, a smaller version of Brown's group was allowed to play for US servicemen in war-torn Vietnam. Further singles in 1968 by Marva (including I'm Tired I'm Tired I'm Tired and What Do I Have To Do To Prove My Love To You) heightened her profile. Later she was rewarded with her first R&B hit, It's My Thing, co-written by Marva with James Brown. The record spent seven weeks in Billboard's US R&B Hot 100, peaking at 19 in the summer of 1969.

Further funk 45s, Things Got To Get Better and I Made A Mistake Because It's Only You, also made their presence felt on the US R&B Top 40. Marva had already recorded an album of jazz standards for King with the Dee Felice Trio at the beginning of the year. Entitled I Sing Soul and assigned a record company catalogue number, the LP never came out, though test pressings were made. But by the end of 1969, Marva decided it was time to leave the James Brown camp. Her final engagement with Mr. Dynamite was at The Apollo Theatre just before Christmas in December 1969.

King issued a second LP, Live & Lowdown At The Apollo, in early 1970, by which time Marva was at home in Kansas waiting to make her next move. She wasn't inactive for long and cut a tremendous funk 45 called Giving It Up on Love. In November 1970, she married Ellis Taylor, who began his own independent label called Forte based in Kansas. After a year's respite from the music business, Marva began recording for Forte and between the years 1972-74 released a clutch of strong but poorly promoted 45s. In 1988, Marva's career was revitalised by the release of James Brown's Funky People, a CD showcasing the work of Marva and other members of The Godfather of Soul's Revue. The success of that album resulted in several successful European tours as a member of the JBs Allstars alongside Bobby Byrd, Vicki Anderson, Lyn Collins, Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley and Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis.

Marva's music also provided some of hip-hop's hardest working samples during that time.

In 2004, Marva's career gained new impetus when she joined forces with DJ Pari and the Hanover-based Soulpower organisation. Recent high voltage performances in England, Germany, France, Sweden and Finland, attest that Marva is enjoying a new lease of life on the road. More importantly they confirmed that Marva Whitney is still the voice of funk. In 2006, she teamed up with Nippon's Osaka Monaurail, toured Japan and recorded her comeback-album "I am what I am".

Charles Waring,

Blues & Soul, MOJO and Record Collector.
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