It was reported that the trailblazing funk musician and singer-songwriter Betty Davis has died in Homestead, Pennsylvania at 77 years old.
Davis, whose given name was Betty Mabry, was a powerful force of unapologetic sexuality, feminine freedom and innovative musicianship that made her a Black music history legend. She released three studio albums during her brief, yet impactful music career, 1973’s “Betty Davis,” 1974’s “They Say I’m Different” and “Nasty Gal” in 1975.
She moved to New York City in 1965 after being raised in Durham, North Carolina and Pittsburgh. During her humble beginnings in NYC, Davis made a living modeling and managing nightclubs. The city was teeming with artists and she quickly connected with the local music community, meeting musicians like Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix. Davis had been writing songs since she was 12 years old, which prepared her to jump at the opportunity to record a few soul music singles. One of her songs, “Uptown to Harlem,” was covered by The Chamber Brothers in 1967.
Davis is also known for her brief marriage to jazz musician Miles Davis which has been documented as a violent and painful year of matrimony. Miles and Betty did collaborate on music together. “Her face is on the cover of ‘Filles de Kilimanjaro,’ an album Mr. Davis recorded in 1968. He produced recording sessions for his wife in 1969 with his musicians—including Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and John McLaughlin—along with Jimi Hendrix’s rhythm section, Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell. Shelved by Columbia Records, the sessions were released in 2016 as ‘The Columbia Years: 1968-69,’” writes The New York Times.
Following the divorce, she began working on her own music. Sly and the Family Stone drummer Greg Errico produced her debut album, and with the encouragement of her ex-husband, she produced and arranged her next two studio albums.
Betty Davis was a unique, some say raunchy, overtly sexual musician that many regard as a feminist figure because of her in-your-face style and explicit lyrics. She wore metallic revealing clothing and wore a perfect afro that highlighted the beauty of her Blackness and the strength of the iconic image. Unfortunately, the world was not quite ready for Davis’ prowess and after the release of her final studio album “Nasty Gal,” Davis began to withdraw and by the 1980s completely fell into obscurity.
In 2018, a documentary about Davis surfaced. “Betty: They Say I’m Different” revealed Betty’s story and image for the first time in decades. She continued to live privately until she died.
Condolences are due to this amazing Black woman pioneer who took the funk world by storm and gave the world a view of what true female empowerment looked like.