Funk singer Marva Whitney, nicknamed by collaborator James Brown “Soul Sister Number 1,” died Saturday at the age of 68.
While Whitney’s cause of death is not immediately known, the Rolling Stone is reporting that the singer died from complications of pneumonia.
Following Marva’s death, a note on her official Facebook page was posted that read:
“She left us with a legacy that will shine forever. Please keep her family in your payers.”
Born Marva Ann Manning, Whitney’s musical career started as early as three years old while touring with her family’s gospel group, the Manning Gospel Singers.
In her teens, Marva joined the Alma Whitney Singers, later marrying singer Harry Whitney, and began singing R&B music for the first time. In 1967, Whitney got her big break when she joined the James Brown Revue and began touring in Vietnam, Europe, and North Africa over the next couple of years.
Along the way, Whitney cut several “pure funk” singles under Brown’s direction including “Unwind Yourself” and “I’m Tired, I’m Tired, I’m Tired,” but didn’t make a true name for herself until her track “It’s My Thing,” her own take on the Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing.”
The song was a hit, reaching #19 on the Billboard R&B chart and #82 on the Hot 100 in 1969. It would later be sampled in Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise.”
After her time with James Brown, Whitney recorded several singles for the Isley Brothers’ T-Neck label and then Forte Records. However, they were unsuccessful, and she retired from the music business for several years.
In 2009, Whitney suffered a stroke on stage during a show in Australia but recovered and performed again 2010.
She is survived by her mother, Willa Mae Manning; five brothers, Ray Jr., Raymond, Melvin, Marvin and Winfred; two children, Sherry Whitney and Ellis Taylor Jr.; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
In memory of Marva Whitney’s life, listen as she performs “It’s My Thing” in the video below: