Kansas City metro remembers musical legend Marva Whitney - KCTV5

Kansas City metro remembers musical legend Marva Whitney

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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

The Kansas City metro is remembering a musical legend - Marva Whitney - James Brown's band mate and "Soul Sister #1."

Whitney, a Kansas City, KS, native, passed away last month from complications with pneumonia. KCTV5's Erika Tallan had a chance to talk to family members busy getting ready for her memorial services as well as a lifelong friend who's been with her from the beginning.

Tallan also got to hear the last song the late Whitney ever recorded, which was never released. Eugene Smiley wrote it and strummed along back in 1999. He and Whitney went way back after first meeting through a music group called The Derby's.

"They were a band back in the day that mainly introduced R&B live music in Kansas City. If you had talent, they would feature you in their band," Smiley said.

Whitney's talent caught the attention of James Brown. She joined James Brown Revue in 1967 after turning down singing jobs with Bobby Bland and Little Richard.

"James decided this is the girl he wanted because she was good at what she did and was very pretty. She added so much to his show," Smiley said.

Under Brown's direction Whitney had a breakthrough R&B hit that made the charts - "It's My Thing."

She ended her career in Kansas City, but never forgot where she came from.

"Somebody gave us the opportunity to grow up and make a name for ourselves. We always believed in that," Smiley said.

Even in death, Whitney is giving back. A fund is set up in her name to benefit inner-city school music programs. It helps them continue music education programs. Click here to learn more.

"If you don't do that, your music dies. Everything you put in all those years just fades away," Smiley said.

Her funeral services were Saturday and hundreds came to pay their respects. Some big wigs in the soul music industry were rumored to be attending, but Little Richard wasn't one of them.

"People are often not remembered for the things that they've done and their talents until they've gone and it's a shame because she was such a talented woman and she worked so hard in the industry. When I look back at her YouTube videos and some people just don't know who she is and I'm like, 'really?'. She was such an amazing person, amazing talent and more people should know who she was," said Roxanne Moore, a family friend, Saturday.

In her heyday, Whitney was in big demand before taking the job with James Brown. Besides turning down Bland and Little Richard, she also turned down tours with Joe Tex.

Whitney leaves behind a son and daughter. She was 68-years-old.

KCTV5's Nima Shaffe contributed to this report.

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