Who Was Nappy Brown, The Legendary American R&B Singer?



Mr. Napoleon Brown Goodson Culp, better known by his stage name Nappy Brown, was an R&B singer from the United States. His hits include “Don’t Be Angry,” which peaked at number two on the Billboard charts in 1955, and “Night Time Is the Right Time.” Brown’s style is instantly recognizable; he used a wide vibrato, melisma, and distinctive extra syllables, particularly “li-li-li-li”

Napoleon Brown Goodson Culp was the son of Kathryn Culp and Sammie Lee Brown. Fred and Maggie Culp raised him after his mother died. They were members of Gethsemane AME Zion Church, and he went to school in Charlotte, North Carolina.

He began his career singing gospel before transitioning to R&B. He signed a recording contract with Savoy Records in 1954, which resulted in a string of hits, including “Don’t Be Angry.” Brown was one of R&B’s biggest stars, frequently touring with Alan Freed’s revues.

His songs, along with those of his contemporaries and peers (such as Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Fats Domino), were among the first wave of African-American pop music to gain notice and popularity among white audiences.

Elvis Presley allegedly used to go see Brown perform whenever he came to Memphis. Brown’s powerful and protean voice, combined with his distinctive emotive style, is widely regarded as a key link in the development of soul music, in addition to his influence on blues music and 1950s R&B and pop.

Some of Brown’s early songs were released on European albums in the early 1980s, thanks to a renewed interest in R&B. Brown returned to the music industry at the urging of Bob Margolin, former guitarist for Muddy Waters’ band and a fan of his, beginning with a successful tour of Scandinavia in 1983. “Piddly Patter,” Brown’s Savoy Records hit, was featured in John Waters’ film Cry-Baby.

Brown was inactive for much of the 1960s due to a prison sentence. In 1969, he released an album for Elephant V, and in the 1970s, he recorded gospel music with the Bell Jubilee Singers for Jewel and as Brother Napoleon Brown for Savoy.

Brown was rediscovered in the 1980s by a new generation of blues fans. On 1984’s Tore Up, he performed at festivals and recorded for Black Top and Alligator Records, with guitarist Tinsley Ellis and his band the Heartfixers accompanying him. Brown’s final performance was at the annual Blues Music Awards in May 2008; he died in September of that year at the age of 78.


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