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Marsha Hunt: Mick Jagger's 'Brown Sugar' Inspiration, Then And Now

Icons | April 15, 2021

Singer, actress and model Marsha Hunt, 21st August 1969. (Photo by McCarthy/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Marsha Hunt didn't write "Brown Sugar" -- Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones wrote it about her. She didn't have a lot of lines in the musical Hair, but it was her face plastered all over London on the poster. She was in a few bands, performed at the landmark Isle Of Wight festival in 1969, and had a minor hit with "Walk On Gilded Splinters." In the '70s, she was a radio presence, she appeared in the Hammer Horror classic Dracula A.D. 1972, and formed a few different bands. She's a model, actress, writer and singer, but above that she is a witness to and symbol of the possibilities in the Swinging London scene of the mid- and late '60s, and was a familiar presence among the London rock royalty of the early '70s.

Marsha Hunt, the inspiration for the Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar." (afropunk)jpeg

Marsha Hunt first came to fame as an actress in Hair, the scandalous West End musical that took London and eventually the world by storm. Playing the character Dionne, Hunt only had two lines, but those two lines and her striking beauty moved the hearts of thousands and a man named Mick Jagger who fell in lust over Hunt in just one look. The visage of Hunt’s beautiful face and astounding afro became the inspiration for Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” and the quintessential poster from Hair. Hunt also became the first black model to ever appear on the cover of Britain’s high-fashion magazine, Queen. Unfortunately, cavorting with a rock star brings many pitfalls and Hunt learned the trials and tribulations the hard way. 

Tough Beginnings

Marsha Hunt on the famous Hair poster. The art was also used for the sleeve of a 1976 reissue of the cast recording. Source: Twitter

Marsha Hunt was born in Philadelphia and raised entirely by her mother, aunt, and grandmother. She never really knew her father. At the age of 15 she learned he committed suicide three years previous to her hearing of it. Despite the lack of a strong father figure in her life, Hunt did well in high school before attending the University of California, Berkeley and becoming entrenched in the counterculture lifestyle. In one of her books, Undefeated, she recalled her time at Berkeley as

sitting in for the Free Speech Movement, smoking pot, experimenting with acid, lining up to take Oriental philosophy courses, daring to cohabit, and going to dances in San Francisco.

Hunt has written three nonfiction books about her own life, and three novels.

Across The Pond

Hunt became the first African American to ever grace the cover. (magforumblog)

After college, she moved to London and within six months met and married Mike Ratledge of the band Soft Machine in the spring of 1967. However, the marriage was one of convenience, allowing her to stay in the UK. Ratledge and Hunt remained friends even though they never acted as husband and wife. After joining the band The Ferris Wheel in ‘68, Hunt got the role as Dionne in the rock musical Hair, which would drastically change her life forever. 

Marsha Hunt Was An Iconic Presence In A Storied Era

Hunt in Pop magazine, late '60s. Source: Pinterest

With her striking looks, including a fantastic big afro hairdo, Hunt made for a commanding presence on stage, and caught the attention of various rock stars as well. One of them was Marc Bolan of T. Rex, with whom she had a passionate, though brief, relationship.

Meeting Mick Jagger

Hunt lived life in the fast lane. (feelnumb)

As the literal poster girl for Hair, Hunt became one of the most prominent black figures in the UK at the time. Many fell all over themselves to get a piece of her, including the one and only Mick Jagger. Through his personal assistant, Jagger asked to feature her as the cover girl of the Rolling Stones new single, “Honky Tonk Woman.” Hunt took her role as a role model to young black women seriously and declined the offer saying, “I didn’t want to look like I’d just been had by all the Rolling Stones.”

Naturally, a man like Jagger was unaccustomed to being told no, and showed up at her apartment. As Hunt recalled, “Framed by the doorway as he stood grinning with a dark coat… He drew one hand out of his pocket and pointed it at me like a pistol… Bang.”

Mick Jagger And Marsha Hunt Had A Torrid Nine-Month Affair

Marsha became one of many notches on Jagger's belt. (videomuzic)

Mick and Marsha’s fiery love affair started on rocky footing. Just days after the death of ex-Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, who had been booted from the band and turned up dead in his swimming pool, the band played a tribute concert at Hyde Park with 250,000 people in attendance. With Jagger’s live-in girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull, just feet away from his new mistress, the rock star belted out a cover of “I’m Yours And I’m Hers.” Thanks to the UK' voracious tabloid press, half of London was well aware of his illicit love affair with Hunt.

Mick Jagger Wrote Love Letters To Marsha Hunt

Marsha Hunt profiled in the January 1, 1969 issue of Vogue. Source: Vogue

Another two days later, Jagger flew with Faithfull to Australia to film a movie. During that time racked by embarrassment and hurt by Jagger’s betrayal, Faithfull attempted to commit suicide that led to a six-day coma before miraculously recovering. While Jagger’s actual girlfriend tenuously hung on to life, he wrote love letters to Hunt, detailing his unrelenting love for her. Those love letters likely laid the groundwork for the Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar," a hit off of their classic album Sticky Fingers that Jagger initially titled “Black P***y. 

Mick And Marsha Burned Out Fast

The afro that caught the attention of a nation. (pinterest)

After Jagger moved Faithfull out and Hunt in, he began to miss his ex-girlfriend’s child, to whom he had become a surrogate father. Therefore, Mick and Marsha decided to have a child but mere months after getting Hunt pregnant, Jagger was on to the next hot young lass that caught his eye.

As one of his many conquests remembered, “When I moved into Mick’s house, I knew about Marsha, but his relationship with her was already over. It didn’t seem a big deal to him. He just mentioned that she was a girl he had met who had got pregnant. He said he wasn’t in love with her, but she was very talented.” Thus began Jagger’s endless failing as a father.

There's Life After Mick For Marsha Hunt

Marsha Hunt with Peter Cushing in the Hammer Horror film 'Dracula A.D. 1972.' Source: IMDB

He sent £200 in lieu of his presence during his daughter’s birth and repeatedly dodged any responsibilities of child support until legal action pressed him into doing the right thing. In 2013, Hunt, needing money, sold Jagger’s Australian love letters in an auction for £190,000. Today, Hunt and Jagger appear to have squashed any lingering acrimony for the sake of their daughter Karis, who graduated from Yale (with Mick in attendance), got married, and became a mother herself.

Marsha Hunt's life in the '70s went in numerous directions. As an actress, she appeared in the Hammer Horror film Dracula A.D. 1972, alongside Hammer heavyweights Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (who kills her onscreen). She was active in the theater, appearing in numerous plays in London's West End; additionally she wrote, directed and produced the stage show Man To Woman in 1973. In the same year, she began broadcasting a late-night radio show on Capitol Radio titled Sarah, Marsha And Friends.

Marsha Music In The '70s: Bands, Singles, Albums

Cover art of Marsha Hunt's 1971 solo album 'Woman Child.' Source: Discogs.com

Musically, Hunt was persistent and in-demand, even if her work is obscure now. After having performed with her band White Trash at the 1969 Isle Of Wight Festival, she released a moderately successful single, a cover of Dr. John's "Walk on Gilded Splinters." She formed a new band, 22 (or "Marsha Hunt's 22"), which released a couple of singles and recorded enough demos for an album that was assembled years later. After 22 broke up, Hunt recorded and released two funk singles (and later an album) as a solo artist in 1976, then moved to L.A., where she tried her hand at punk rock in an act called Marsha & The Vendettas.

Marsha Hunt Now: Undefeated

In 2004, Hunt was diagnosed with breast cancer, which she faced in her own rock-star way. She had a mastectomy in Ireland, and on the day of the surgery wrote a note to the doctors on her breast (punctuated with a flower), just to make sure they removed the correct one. She opted not to have reconstructive surgery, considering the scar from the mastectomy to be a "battle scar" and analogous to those of the Amazonian warriors, who were said to cut off one breast so that they could shoot a bow and arrow. In 2005, Hunt published Undefeated, a memoir of her battle with cancer. On the cover, she struck the same nude pose she had for British Vogue back in 1969.

Tags: 1960s Hair Styles | Afro | Brown Sugar | Hair | Marsha Hunt | Mick Jagger | The Rolling Stones

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!