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James was the seventh of eight children born to Charles and Anna Whitney, December 17, 1949 in Sedalia Mo. Larger than the average size of a newborn, James weighed in at 12 lb. and 5 oz.
James spoke highly of his father and mother. Memories of his parents came natural.
James enjoyed working alongside his Dad, helping clean C.C. Hubbard Elementary School. He often spoke about the hotdogs and coke they shared while cleaning.
He recalled “getting on his Dad’s nerves” playing instruments with his mouth — the drumbeats, and the deep, rich and full sounds of a bass guitar. His human instruments (although annoying to Dad) was James simply channeling from within the instruments he was gifted to play.
James often talked about his Mom’s cooking and baking. Mom loved eating sweets. She would bake then eat the pies or cakes until there was hardly enough left for the family. James traces his love of sweets to his Mom.
James’ spiritual upbringing stemmed from his Mom primarily taking them to church at Jones Holy Temple in Sedalia, Mo. He recalled sometimes Mom attended church every night of the week.
James and his siblings were products of a very musically gifted family. James often spoke about the days he and his brother, Glen would spend time in the back room of the family home listening to music from “Stan’s Record Shop” and singing. Their favorite genre was the sounds of Motown, but they also immersed themselves in the beats, rhythms and lyrics of all types of music.
After attending C.C. Hubbard Elementary, James attended and graduated from Smith Cotton High School. James was a standout and star athlete on the high school basketball team. He received numerous college basketball scholarships. James chose to go to college in Hannibal Mo.
After a brief college stay, he decided to enlist in the United States Navy with his childhood buddy, Darwin Finley.
James served two years in the Navy on the USS Wrangell, stationed in Charleston, SC. He worked laundry duty. Somehow his Captain found out he had a gift playing instruments and
singing. He asked James to form a band consisting of fellow shipmates. James was not going to pass on the opportunity. The band played whenever the ship docked in cities in Greece, Spain and the United States, as well as onboard the ship.
James completed his Navy program and was honorably discharged in March 1975. He returned to Kansas City and worked for various companies throughout the city such as Mattress Company, Anderson Formal and Public Works for the City of Kansas City. He never held a 9 to 5 too long because James’ passion was music.
Anyone who knew James knows he loved to play music, eat and make money!
For years, he spent the weekends at Swap & Shop. James loved shopping for deals. He went to garage sales. He often traded and purchased at pawn shops throughout the city. James loved saving and making money.
He also took pride in the fact that he NEVER drank or smoked. He credited that to his youthful looks. James’ dimples sunk real deep when someone told him he looked like he was in his early 50s after he turned 70 years old.
Back in the day, James played with bands such as 360 Degrees and Sonny Kenner, until he formed his own band. He named it “James Whitney and the Salt & Pepper Band.” The original band members were his brother, Glen Whitney playing bass guitar; Ira Wilkes on lead guitar and Dwight Jenkins on drums. Later, the band was made up of James, Glen, his son Derrick Redmon on drums and friends Joe Clyne and Moe Spitcaufsky on lead guitar.
Eventually, he also perfected his own one-man band featuring (you guessed it)…James himself.
As a solo performer, this opened opportunities for James to play for a number of years at various nursing homes throughout the city, and at the Ameristar and Argosy Casinos.
In 1999, James’ sister-in-law, Alma Whitney asked him to play bass guitar for Memorial Missionary Baptist Church, Kansas City, Mo., where Bishop Larry B. Aikens served as pastor.
James continued to balance his schedule playing for the church and other engagements.
He was known through the city for his sweet tenor, “Al Green-like” voice. For most of his gigs, there was always a request for him to sing an ‘Al Green’ tune — “Let’s Stay Together”, “God Bless Our Love” and “Love and Happiness”. To James, each of these songs took on a whole new meaning after he and Tressa were married.
He loved and could sing ALL genres of music: Country/Western, Gospel, Motown and R&B, with his favorite being R&B funk.
Prior to COVID, music lovers could catch “James and Cuzzins”, who consisted of his brother Glen, his son Derrick and Duane Murff on lead guitar, performing mainly in the Historic 18th & Vine District, as well as private events around the city.
James also looked forward to an annual invitation to play in his hometown for its Juneteenth Celebration. This year was especially exciting for James because it was a reunion, of sorts, of his old band, “James Whitney and the Salt & Pepper Band”, with Moe.
James continued his “one-man band” at various nursing homes in the city. He constantly stated how he wanted to play music ‘til he died; that’s all he wanted to do.
The Love Story
Little did James know that Memorial Church is where he would meet and later marry Tressa Cobbins. James and Tressa began their journey of “two becoming one” on Thursday, January 1, 2004.
It is one thing to work hard out of obligation and responsibility. It is another thing to devote yourself to work motivated by your passion and love for what you do. Most of all James’ pride- and-joy was the love of his life, Tressa.
James and Tressa continued their church membership at Memorial until 2008, when James became the bass player for Life Changers Christian Center, Raytown, Mo., Pastor Cleotis Cobbins, Jr. James played for the church until he retired in 2018.
He continued to attend and serve at Life Changers until his transition. He was faithful, maintaining the church and Pastor’s lawn. If it was broke, James would fix it. He loved serving his church and looked forward to Monday Night Mens’ prayer call at 7 o’clock.
In 2022 after having emergency open heart surgery, James began to view life in a different way. He would talk about how he wanted to enjoy life and wanted to make SURE his wife was HAPPY.
He became more open to traveling, loved family gatherings (especially when Tressa cooked), and their weekend restaurant visits, which often included family — planned or spontaneous.
If you ever had a conversation with him two things you would walk away knowing — James LOVED GOD AND HE LOVED, LOVED, LOVED him some Tressa Maxine Whitney.
James departed this life peacefully on September 1, 2023, after being involved in an automobile accident on August 28. He often stated to his wife that he did not want to leave her. But, if The Lord was ready for him, he was not afraid to die.
His Dad, Mom, siblings Charles Lee, Harry, Deloris, Carl, and Joyce proceeded him in death; along with two grandsons, Quinton and Jordan who was his partner in grass cutting.
James will be missed by his loving, devoted wife of almost 20 years, Tressa; his children: James Harris, Derrick Redmon, Jeanella Palton, LaShawnda Whitney, JuVonda Sappho, Jamie Flemons and Reginald Roach; his surviving siblings: Glen (Rita) Whitney and Shirley (Eddie) Caldwell, 15 grandchildren, 7 great grandchildren, brothers- and sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, cousins, band members, the Life Changers Christian Center church family, friends and neighbors.