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'Soul Sister #1' Has Her Day

Remaking a classic song presents a unique challenge: Covers necessitate infusing the subject with new life and personality, but the original commands respect, lest the cover devolve into a desecration. Fortunately, veteran soul singer Marva Whitney strikes just the right balance on her interpretation of Brenda Holloway's "Every Little Bit Hurts," a plaintive lament Alicia Keys revived two years ago.

While Keys' remarkable Unplugged brought youthful angst to the song, Whitney's version smolders with the sort of weathered wisdom that only an old-school singer can muster. As she croons about being burned and betrayed, the bottled-up fervor of her full-bodied vocal suggests another subtext. It's taken Whitney three decades to record a new album — while singing with the James Brown Revue in the late '60s and early '70s, she was hailed as "Soul Sister #1" — so the song hints at a rebuke of a music industry that turned its back on her when she and Brown parted ways.

The American R&B world hasn't been kind to this amazing singer; it's worth noting that Whitney had to connect with Osaka Monaurail, a Japanese band, to help revive her career. Now winning fans in Europe and Asia, Whitney appears primed to enjoy a late-in-life career renaissance similar to that of Bettye LaVette, another sensational and under-recognized R&B veteran. Any success Whitney finds may be sweet, but her poignant take on "Every Little Bit Hurts" hints at pain that can't be relieved so easily.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

John Murph
John Murph writes about music and culture and works as a web producer for BETJazz.com. He also contributes regularly to The Washington Post Express, JazzTimes, Down Beat, and JazzWise magazines.