- 10 Feb 22
Betty Davis, legendary funk singer, model and club manager, passed away Wednesday due to natural causes.
Betty Davis, the seminal Queen of Funk, has died at the age of 77 as a result of natural causes on Wednesday, February 9th. The musician's brief but inspired body of work blazed a path for women in the music industry during the '60s and '70s.
Danielle Maggio, a close friend of Davis whose research as an ethnomusicologist focused on Davis’ work, confirmed the singer’s death to Rolling Stone. Amie Downs, communications director for Allegheny County where Davis lived, added that the cause of death was natural causes.
To say Betty Davis' biggest contribution to the industry was introducing then-husband Miles Davis to Hendrix would be to only wade in the shallow end. Though it was her influence that inspired Miles' rock n' roll/jazz fusion era — resulting in 1969's In a Silent Way and 1970's Bitches Brew — it's Betty's own catalogue that continues to echo through the hallowed halls of music history.
Her lyrics are promiscuous. Her voice was raspy and wild. Davis broke all the rules, creating music that was sensuous, explicit and soulful. With overtly sexualised tracks like 'Shut Off The Light' and 'If I'm In Luck I Might Get Picked Up,' Davis stared down a male-dominated industry, breaking down walls for non-conformists to follow. Her candid attitude directly blazed a path for artists like Prince and Madonna, who would rise to prominence in the coming decades.
Davis first began recording music under her birth name, Betty Mabry. Born in 1944 in Durham, North Carolina, Davis grew up between North Carolina and Pittsburgh, before moving to New York City at 17 to enrol in the Fashion Institute of Technology. She became a key figure in the counter-culture scene at the time, mingling with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol and Eric Clapton. Nearly her entire discography was recorded with Micheal Lang's Just Sunshine Records between 1964 and 1975, shelved during her tumultuous year of marriage to jazz legend Miles Davis.
"Every day married to him was a day I earned the name Davis," she said in the 2017 documentary chronicling her life, Betty: They Say I'm Different. While married to Miles, Betty steered him toward the burgeoning rock scene of the era, appearing on the cover of album Filles de Kilimanjaro and serving as the inspiration for his song 'Lady Mabry.'
After a run of three albums in three consecutive years, recording works Betty Davis, They Say I'm Different and Nasty Gal, and a year spent in Japan with silent monks, the singer suddenly stopped creating. She returned to the Pittsburgh area, where she would live for the next 40 years without making any new music.
"When I was told it was over, I just accepted it," Davis said in a rare 2018 interview with The New York Times. "And nobody else was knocking at my door."
Though her funk albums didn't achieve huge success during during her time, they would garner a cult following in the years to come — modern artists Erykah Badu, Janelle Monae and Jamila Woods all credit her as major inspirations.
"[I remember] being instantly struck by the sonic quality of her voice," Wood said in an interview with Rolling Stone. "It's like she makes me want to listen to what she was saying. And I don't think I understood the power of just that for a long time. And she really helped me internalise that."
Betty Davis leaves behind a heavy legacy, weaving her influence through the channels of jazz, rock and funk history. Davis' longtime friend Connie Portis said it best; "Today we cherish her memory as the sweet, thoughtful and reflective person she was... There is no other."
The likes of Lenny Kravitz have paid tribute to the under-appreciated star:
"This lady was hip before hip was hip. Her musical and fashion expression had no boundaries, and she influenced the likes of Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix. ‘Nuff said. Rest in paradise, Queen."
#BettyDavis 07/26/1945 - 02/09/2022
This lady was hip before hip was hip. Her musical and fashion expression had no boundaries, and she influenced the likes of Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix. ‘Nuff said. Rest in paradise, Queen. pic.twitter.com/cbj0mQFiRM
— Lenny Kravitz (@LennyKravitz) February 9, 2022
I play Betty Davis about once a week. I just added her to an essay not two days ago! A beacon for strange Black girls who just don’t want to be tied down. What an icon. It seems she, too, has said enough of this world. pic.twitter.com/5FCj04PjDJ
— Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd) February 9, 2022
RIP Betty Davis, the original (and only) nasty gal, famed for being one of music's greatest muses, but more importantly, one of the funkiest to ever do it. Her first 3 solo records are sleazy, soulful and raw. Filthy '70s trash talking of the best kind. https://t.co/iucGWY17hU
— Otto Von Biz Markie (@Passionweiss) February 9, 2022
— Strong Black Lead (@strongblacklead) February 9, 2022
My favorite Betty Davis photo pic.twitter.com/xV8k1YiP88
— Cora Harrington (@lingerie_addict) February 9, 2022
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 01 Jul 21