R&B Pioneer Nappy Brown Dies

  I   R&B singer Nappy Brown died on Saturday at Mercy Hospital in Charlotte, N.C. He was 78 and had been hospitalized with various ailments during the past few months.

Brown had several r&b hits in the 1950s, including “Don’t Be Angry” and “The Right Time,” which he wrote and later became a crossover smash for Ray Charles. While Brown had been in and out of the public eye throughout much of his career, he was on an upswing just before his illness last year with a new disc, Long Time Coming (Blind Pig), and international touring.

As Brown began his career singing gospel, he was one of the early singers to bring that music’s vocal inflections and rhythms to the emerging r&b field. As he said in the December issue of DownBeat, “When we sang a cappella, nothing but foot stomping was your timing. You had to know exactly what you were doing, because there was nothing else to give you a cue. I do that to this day.”

But what made Brown a unique vocalist were the inflections he brought to a string of vowels on such songs as “Don’t Be Angry.”

“I used to sit up late at night when I was a teenager and listen to foreign music on the radio,” Brown said. “I heard them singing what sounded like ‘lilililili’ and used that to pep up my songs.”

While business troubles and personal demons had kept Brown away from music throughout much of the ’60s and ’70s, he began recording again in 1979. Last year, he said that as one of the few survivors of the seminal r&b era, he was committed to performing.

“There are just a few of us left, and that’s why it’s a blessing to go out there,” Brown said. “Before I go onstage I always say a prayer.”

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