Born: October 12, 1929 in Charlotte NC
Died: September 20, 2008 in Charlotte NC
Rhythm & blues giant Napoleon "Nappy" Brown was as fine a singer as you'd ever hear, a dynamic onstage performer, and a gentleman who dodged many obstacles throughout a career that spanned six decades.
Brown's unique vocal style was rooted in both the passion of gospel music and the fire of the blues, and the singer often used techniques such as vibrato and melisma, along with tricks like rolling the consonants or extending the syllables of a word to liven up his vocal delivery. A consummate performer, Brown's 1950s-era hits would set the stage for the rise of soul music in the '60s, as well as influencing rock & roll singers like Elvis Presley and the later development of the soul-blues style.
Nappy Brown, Rhythm & Blues Star
Born Napoleon Brown Goodson Culp in 1929 in Charlotte, North Carolina, not a lot of information has been published about the artist's early life. Like many singers of his era, he grew up in the church, and sang both gospel and blues music in his youth. Barely out of his teens, Brown was performing with the Golden Bells gospel group, moving on to the Selah Jubilee Singers before fronting the Heavenly Lights group. It was with the Heavenly Lights that Brown cut the 1954 hit single "Jesus Said It" for Savoy Records.
At the urging of Savoy label boss Herman Lubinsky, Brown moved to New Jersey in 1955 to pursue a solo R&B career. Between 1955 and 1961, Brown recorded a string of hit singles like "Don't Be Angry," "Pitter Patter," "It Don't Hurt No More" for Savoy. Brown's song "The Right Time" was later recorded, with some success, by Ray Charles. During the late-1950s, Brown frequently toured with DJ Alan Freed's famous R&B revue shows, performing alongside contemporaries like Fats Domino, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry. Brown also toured with bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.
Brown's Late Career & Comeback
Brown spent most of the 1960s and '70s out of the musical spotlight. His last Savoy album, The Right Time, was released by the label in 1960, and Brown didn't follow it up until the 1969 release of Thanks For Nothing. After 15 years out of the studio, Brown jumped back into music at the recommendation of former Muddy Waters guitarist Bob Margolin. The result was Brown's 1984 album, Tore Up, recorded with blues guitarist Tinsley Ellis and his band the Heartfixers.
Albums like Something Gonna Jump Out The Bushes (1987) and Apples & Lemons (1990) would follow, Brown recording for both American and European labels like Blacktop, Ichiban and JSP Records. Brown toured steadily throughout the 1980s and '90s, and was an in-demand performer on the blues festival circuit.
The singer's extended comeback culminated in the 2007 release of Long Time Coming for Blind Pig Records. The critically-acclaimed album received two Blues Music Award nominations; resulted in both a Living Blues magazine cover story and an invitation to perform on Garrison Keillor’s popular Prairie Home Companion radio program; and it helped cement Brown's longstanding reputation as a soulful blues shouter.
Recommended Albums: Although you can still find copies of Something Gonna Jump Out The Bushes on CD, which features some fine singing by Brown and solid performances from guitarists Ronnie Earl, Anson Funderburgh, and Earl King, Brown's acclaimed "comeback" album, Long Time Coming captures the R&B legend at his best, backed by six-string wizards Sean Costello and Bob Margolin, and blues harpist John Nemeth.