Forever associated with James Brown as one of his funky divas, Marva Whitney is fondly remembered for her raw vocal attack on some of the funkiest records ever made. From Kansas City, she came up in a gospel-singing family, performing as early as 1947 when she was three years old.
She sang in R&B bands locally until '67. After rejecting offers to tour with Bobby "Blue" Bland and Little Richard, she signed on to join the James Brown Revue, which included her own featured set. She toured the world with JB (including Vietnam and Africa) and had a romantic relationship with him. During a sort-of feud between James and the Isley Brothers in '69 she recorded an answer record to the Isleys' "It's Your Thing" called "It's My Thing (You Can't Tell Me Who To Sock It To)", which became her first hit, followed by more chart hits and three albums.
By 1970 she had quit the JB Revue and was back in KC. She recorded a sought-after 45 for the Isleys T-Neck label that year, as well as '70s singles for Forte and Excello. The '80s were generally quiet save for a spell touring with former Brown sidemen as the JB All Stars. She got back to the gospel in the '90s before a comeback with Japanese funk group Osaka Monaurail in 2006, including two well-received tours of Japan and three tours of Europe.
She collapsed onstage while performing in Australia in 2009 and was off the scene for a year or so. She then performed again until her death from pneumonia in late 2012. Her songs have been heavily sampled by the hip-hop generation and she will forever be known as one of the great soul sisters.