Betty Davis

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Not to be confused with Bette Davis or Elizabeth Davis (disambiguation).
Betty Davis
Birth name Betty Mabry
Born (1945-07-26) July 26, 1945 (age 69)
Durham, North Carolina, United States
Origin New York City, New York, United States
Genres Funk, funk rock, R&B, soul music
Occupation(s) Singer, songwriter
Instruments Vocals
Years active 1960s–1979

Betty Davis (born Betty Mabry, July 26, 1945)[1] is an American funk singer.

Background[edit]

Born in 1945, Betty Mabry grew up in Durham, North Carolina, and just outside of Pittsburgh. On her grandmother’s farm in Reidsville, North Carolina, she listened to B.B. King, Jimmy Reed, and Elmore James and other blues musicians. One of the first songs she wrote, at the age of twelve, was called "I’m Going to Bake That Cake of Love."[citation needed]

Aged 16, she left Pittsburgh for New York City, enrolling at the Fashion Institute of Technology while living with her aunt. She soaked up the Greenwich Village culture and folk music of the early 1960s. She associated herself with frequenters of the Cellar, a hip uptown club where young and stylish people congregated. It was a multiracial, artsy crowd of models, design students, actors, and singers. At the Cellar she played records and chatted people up. She also worked as a model, appearing in photo spreads in Seventeen, Ebony and Glamour.[2]

In her time in New York, she met several musicians including Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. The seeds of her musical career were planted through her friendship with soul singer Lou Courtney, who produced her first single, “The Cellar” with simple, catchy lyrics like, “Where you going fellas, so fly? / I’m going to the Cellar, my oh my / What you going to do there / We’re going to boogaloo there.”

The single was a local jam for the Cellar. Yet her first professional gig was not until she wrote "Uptown (to Harlem)" for the Chambers Brothers. Their 1967 album was a major success, but Betty Mabry was focusing on her modeling career. She was successful as a model but felt bored by the work. According to Oliver Wang’s They Say I’m Different liner notes, she said, “I didn’t like modeling because you didn’t need brains to do it. It’s only going to last as long as you look good.”[citation needed]

Marriage to Miles Davis[edit]

She met Miles Davis in 1967 and married him in September 1968. In just one year of marriage she influenced him greatly by introducing him to the fashions and the new popular music trends of the era. In his autobiography, Miles credited Betty with helping to plant the seeds of his future musical explorations by introducing the trumpeter to psychedelic rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix and funk innovator Sly Stone. The Miles Davis album Filles de Kilimanjaro includes a song named after her and her photo on the front cover.

Miles believed that Hendrix and Betty had an affair which supposedly hastened the end of their marriage, but Betty denies this. Hendrix and Miles stayed close after the divorce, planning to record until Hendrix's death. The influence of Hendrix and especially Sly Stone on Miles Davis was obvious on the album Bitches Brew, which ushered in the era of jazz fusion. The origin of the album's title is unknown, but some believe Miles was subtly paying tribute to Betty and her girlfriends. In fact, it is said that he originally wanted to call the album Witches Brew—it was Betty who convinced him to change it.[3]

Music career[edit]

After the end of her marriage with Davis, Betty moved to London, probably around 1971, to pursue her modeling career. She wrote music while in the UK and returned to the US around 1972 with the intention of recording songs with Santana. Instead, she recorded her own songs with a group of West Coast funk musicians. Her first record, Betty Davis, was released in 1973. She had two minor hits on the Billboard R&B chart - "If I'm In Luck I Might Get Picked Up", which reached no. 66 in 1973, and "Shut Off The Lights", which reached no. 97 in 1975.[4] Davis released two more studio albums, They Say I'm Different (1974) and her major label debut on Island Records Nasty Gal (1975). None of the three albums was a commercial success.

Davis remained a cult figure as a singer, due in part to her open sexual attitude, which was controversial for the time. Some of her shows were boycotted and her songs were not played on the radio due to pressure by religious groups and the NAACP.[5] Her image as "the patron saint of badass women" led entrepreneur Sophia Amoruso onto her target customer base and inspired her to name "Nasty Gal" the online retailer venture which sells fashion clothing, shoes, and accessories to young women.[6]

Both Betty Davis and They Say I'm Different were re-released by Seattle's Light in the Attic Records on May 1, 2007. In September 2009, Light in the Attic Records reissued Nasty Gal and her unreleased fourth studio album recorded in 1976, re-titled as Is It Love or Desire? (the original title was Crashin' From Passion). Both reissues contained extensive liner notes and shed some light on the mystery of why her fourth album, considered possibly to be her best work by many members of her band (Herbie Hancock, Chuck Rainey, Alphonse Mouzon),[citation needed] was shelved by the record label and remained unreleased for 33 years. After a final recording session in 1979, Davis eventually stopped making music and returned to Pennsylvania.

Material from the 1979 recording session was eventually used for two bootleg albums, Hangin' Out In Hollywood (1995) and Crashin' From Passion (1996). A greatest hits album, Anti Love: The Best of Betty Davis, was released in 2000.

Discography[edit]

Singles[edit]

Year Single Label Notes
196? "The Cellar"/"???" Independent Release 1st Studio Single; Produced by Lou Courtney
1964 "Get Ready for Betty" / "I'm Gonna Get My Baby Back" DCP 2nd Studio Single
1968 "It's My Life" / "Live, Love, Learn" Columbia 3rd Studio Single
1973 "If I'm in Luck I Might Get Picked Up" / "Steppin in Her I. Miller Shoes" Just Sunshine
1973 "Ooh Yea" / "In the Meantime" Just Sunshine
1974 "Shoo-B-Doop and Cop Him" / "He Was a Big Freak" Just Sunshine
1974 "Git in There" /"They Say I'm Different" Just Sunshine
1975 "Shut Off the Lights" / "He Was a Big Freak" Island

Studio albums[edit]

Year Album Label Notes
1973 Betty Davis Just Sunshine
Light in the Attic (2009 re-release)
1st studio album; produced by Greg Errico
1974 They Say I'm Different Just Sunshine
Light in the Attic (2009 re-release)
2nd studio album; produced by Betty Davis
1975 Nasty Gal Island
Light in the Attic (2009 re-release)
3rd studio album; produced by Betty Davis
2009 Is It Love or Desire? Light In The Attic 4th album; recorded in 1976 and released in 2009

Unofficial releases[edit]

  • Hangin' Out In Hollywood (1995) (Charly) / Crashin' From Passion (Razor & Tie) (1996)
    • Compilation of material recorded in 1979 and released in 1995 and 1996 without the artist's consent
  • Anti Love: The Best of Betty Davis (2000) (UFoxy)
    • Compilation
  • This Is It! Anthology (2005) (Vampisoul)
    • Compilation

References[edit]

  1. ^ Betty Davis at AllMusic
  2. ^ "Betty Davis". Soulwalking.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-06-10. 
  3. ^ "Madonna before Madonna: The woman who introduced Miles to Hendrix finally speaks". Thedailymaverick.co.za. Retrieved 2012-06-10. 
  4. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-1995. Record Research. p. 104. 
  5. ^ Mahon, Maureen (15 June 2011). "They Say She’s Different: Race, Gender, Genre, and the Liberated Black Femininity of Betty Davis". Journal of Popular Music Studies (Oxford: Blackwell) 23 (2): 146–165. doi:10.1111/j.1533-1598.2011.01277.x. 
  6. ^ "Nasty Gal clothing company — as red-hot as its founder's lipstick", LA Times, August 26, 2012

Literature[edit]

  • Liner notes to Light in the Attic's 2007 re-issue of Betty Davis' self-titled 1973 debut album.

External links[edit]