Nappy Brown, highly influential singer and R&B pioneer, passed away peacefully in his sleep at 10:30 pm this past Saturday at Mercy Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina. The 78 year old performer had been hospitalized for several months.
Although Brown was a well-known star in the mid 1950s with a string of hits on the Savoy label, he had largely disappeared from public view a decade later. Few knew that he was such a great, ground-breaking vocalist back then who had an enormous influence on a lot of R&B singers, including a young Elvis Presley, who used to come out to see Nappy whenever he performed in Memphis.
Brown's career and legendary status were redeemed from obscurity with the release of Long Time Coming on Blind Pig Records in&nb sp;September of 2007. Critically acclaimed as a brilliant comeback album, the CD led to Brown's being re-discovered and heralded for his role as the forefather of rhythm & blues. He was invited to perform on Garrison Keillor's popular "Prairie Home Companion," was featured on the cover of Living Blues magazine, was honored by the State of South Carolina with a "Nappy Brown Day," and received two Blues Music Award nominations from the Blues Foundation. In one of his final performances, he brought down the house at the Blues Music Awards show in Mississippi in May.
Nappy reveled in the new found attention, both touched and thrilled to have his talent and place in history recognized. As he told his producer, Scott Cable, "I feel like I'm back on top!" Said Cable, "It was a blessing for Nappy that he was able to experience that adulation. He was at first incredulous about it and always felt very lucky to have a second chance in the spotlight. And he was always very demonstrative about how appreciative he was of all the media attention, the fan interest, and the help of the record label in reviving his career."
Blind Pig President Edward Chmelewski said, "It was so gratifying to be able to bring attention to such a deserving but unrecognized legend in American music and to see how happy it made him. We feel honored and grateful to have worked with and documented the art of one of the most outstanding and important musicians of the past fifty years."
Brown's performing career ended in June when he was hospitalized with a series of ailments. In his last conversation with his wife Ann, Nappy said that this last year was the best of his life and was brought to tears by reading all of the cards and letters from fans. He told her he never realized who he was and how many people cared.
Funeral services are being arranged for this Saturday, September 27, at St. Paul's Baptist Church in Charlotte. Both the Rhythm & Blues Foundation and MusicCares have announced that they will help defray funeral expenses.