Betty Davis

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Betty Davis
Birth nameBetty Mabry
Born (1945-07-26) July 26, 1945 (age 75)
Durham, North Carolina, U.S.
OriginNew York City, U.S.
Genres
Occupation(s)
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • model
InstrumentsVocals
Years active1960s–1979
Labels
Associated acts

Betty Davis (née Mabry; born July 26, 1945)[1] is an American funk and soul singer. She is a performer known for her memorable and noteworthy live performances.

Background[edit]

Born in 1945 according to most sources (though she claims 1944[2]), Betty Mabry grew up in Durham, North Carolina, and just outside Pittsboro. 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 12, was called "I’m Going to Bake That Cake of Love."[3] Also at that age, her family moved to Pittsburgh.

Aged 16, Betty 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.[4]

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—"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."[5][6]

In 2017, a documentary was released entitled Betty: They Say I'm Different.[7][8]

The live action/animated TV series "Mike Judge Presents: Tales from the Tour Bus" ended its 2018 season with an episode focusing on Davis' controversial career.[9]

Betty Davis' music has been featured in such television series as Orange Is the New Black,[10] Mixed-ish,[11] and High Fidelity.[12]

Personal life[edit]

Marriage to Miles Davis[edit]

As a model in 1966, Betty first met jazz musician Miles Davis, who was 19 years her senior.[13] At the time he was separated from his first wife, dancer Frances Davis, and was dating actress Cicely Tyson. Betty began dating Miles in early 1968, and they were married in September 1968.[13] 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 (1968), which features a photo portrait of Betty on the cover, includes a song named after her.

In his autobiography, Miles said Betty was "too young and wild," and accused her of having an affair with Jimi Hendrix, which hastened the end of their marriage.[14] Betty denied the affair stating, "I was so angry with Miles when he wrote that. It was disrespectful to Jimi and to me. Miles and I broke up because of his violent temper."[15] After accusing her of adultery, he filed for divorce in 1969.[16] Miles told Jet magazine at the time that the divorce was obtained on a "temperament" charge. He added, "I'm just not the kind of cat to be married."[17] Hendrix and Miles remained close, 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 (1970), 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.[18]

Relationships[edit]

Davis briefly dated musician Eric Clapton; she refused to collaborate with him.[19][20]

In 1975, Davis' lover Robert Palmer helped her facilitate a deal with Island Records. She released her album Nasty Gal shortly after.[20]

Music career[edit]

As Betty Mabry, she recorded "Get Ready For Betty" b/w "I'm Gonna Get My Baby Back" in 1964 for DCP International. Sometime in that same era, she also recorded a duet with Roy Arlington and under their joint name "Roy and Betty," released a single for Safice entitled, "I'll Be There."

Betty's first major credit was writing "Uptown (to Harlem)" for the Chambers Brothers, 1967.

In 1968, when she was still involved with Hugh Masekela, she recorded several songs for Columbia Records, with Masekela doing the arrangements. Two of them were released as a single: "Live, Love, Learn" b/w "It's My Life." Her relationship with Miles Davis began soon after her breakup from Masekela and in the spring of 1969, Betty returned to Columbia's 52nd St. Studios to record a series of demo tracks, with Miles and Teo Macero producing. At least five songs were taped during those sessions, three of which were Mabry originals, two of which were covers of Cream and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Miles attempted to use these demo songs to secure an album deal for Betty, but neither Columbia nor Atlantic were interested and they were archived into a vault until 2016 when they were released in the compilation, The Columbia Years, 1968–1969, by Seattle's Light in the Attic Records.

After the end of her marriage with Miles, Betty moved to London, probably around 1971, to pursue her modeling career. She wrote music while in the UK and, after about a year, returned to the US with the intention of recording songs with Santana. Instead, she recorded her own songs with a group of West Coast funk musicians. Davis wrote and arranged all her songs.[19] Her first record, Betty Davis, was released in 1973. She released two more studio albums, They Say I'm Different (1974)[21] and her major label debut on Island Records Nasty Gal (1975). None of the three albums was a commercial success, but 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.[22][23]

Davis remained a cult figure as a singer, due in part to her open sexual attitude, which was controversial for the time. She had success in Europe, but in the U.S. she was barred from performing on television because of her sexually aggressive stage persona.[24] Some of her shows were boycotted, and her songs were not played on the radio due to pressure by religious groups and the NAACP.[25] Carlos Santana recalled Betty as "indomitable – she couldn't be tamed. Musically, philosophically and physically, she was extreme and attractive."[15]

After some recording sessions in 1979, Davis stopped making music and returned to Pittsburgh, where she has lived quietly ever since.

Both Betty Davis (1973) and They Say I'm Different (1974) were reissued by Light in the Attic Records in 2007. In 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?. 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 last band (Herbie Hancock, Chuck Rainey, Alphonse Mouzon),[citation needed] was shelved by the record label and remained unreleased for 33 years.

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

In 2019, Davis released her first new song, "A Little Bit Hot Tonight", in over 40 years, which was performed by Danielle Maggio, an ethnomusicologist who is a personal friend and Associate Producer on Betty: They Say I'm Different.[26]

Discography[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

Year Album Label US

R&B

[22]

AUS
[27]
Notes
1973 Betty Davis Just Sunshine
Light in the Attic (2007 re-release)
- 1st studio album; produced by Greg Errico
1974 They Say I'm Different Just Sunshine
Light in the Attic (2007 re-release)
46 - 2nd studio album; produced by Betty Davis
1975 Nasty Gal Island
Light in the Attic (2009 re-release)
54 96 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

Singles[edit]

Year Single Label US

R&B

[22]

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 66
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 97

Compilation[edit]

2016 The Columbia Years 1968-69 Light in the Attic tracks recorded in 1968 – 1969 and released in 2016; produced by Miles Davis & Teo Macero

Unofficial releases[edit]

  • Crashin' from Passion (1995) (Razor & Tie) / Hangin' Out in Hollywood (1996) (Charly) – Compilation of material recorded in 1979 and released 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. ^ Mervis, Scott (July 22, 2019). "Betty Davis, a funk icon living in Homestead, releases first song in nearly 40 years". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  3. ^ McDonnell, Evelyn (2018). Women Who Rock: Bessie to Beyonce. Girl Groups to Riot Grrrl. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal. ISBN 978-0316558877. She penned her first song "I'm going to bake that Cake of Love" when she was 12 years old.
  4. ^ "Betty Davis". Soulwalking.co.uk. Retrieved June 10, 2012.
  5. ^ Wang, O., liner notes to They Say I’m Different, Betty Davis, Just Sunshine – JSS-3500, LP, 1974.
  6. ^ Wang, O., "The Music and Mystique of Betty Davis—Read the Liner Notes to the Funk Singer’s Debut LP", vinylmeplease.com, June 22, 2017.
  7. ^ "Betty: They Say I'm Different". Betty: They Say I'm Different. Retrieved December 23, 2018.
  8. ^ "Betty Davis – They Say I'm Different Symposium at NYU Tandon May 25, 2018" – via YouTube.
  9. ^ Cinemax Fri., Dec. 21.
  10. ^ "Orange is the New Black Soundtrack, a playlist by 22sbbj4p6nqxnurgbrpg555oy on Spotify". Spotify.
  11. ^ "Mixed'ish (ABC) TV Soundtrack, a playlist by GrooveScene on Spotify". Spotify.
  12. ^ Prahl, Amanda (February 23, 2020). ""They Say I'm Different" by Betty Davis". POPSUGAR Entertainment.
  13. ^ a b "'One Of Sexiest Men Alive'". Jet. 35 (2): 48. October 17, 1968.
  14. ^ Davis, Miles; Troupe, Quincy (1990). Miles: The Autobiography. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-72582-2.
  15. ^ a b Spencer, Neil (September 4, 2010). "Miles Davis: The muse who changed him, and the heady Brew that rewrote jazz". The Guardian.
  16. ^ Miles Davis, Quincy Troupe (2012). Miles : The Autobiography. Macmillan. ISBN 9781447218371.
  17. ^ "Miles Davis Signs $300,000 Record Pact; Sheds Wife". Jet. 37 (24): 53. March 12, 1970.
  18. ^ "Madonna before Madonna: The woman who introduced Miles to Hendrix finally speaks". Thedailymaverick.co.za. Archived from the original on September 8, 2010. Retrieved June 10, 2012.
  19. ^ a b Dremousis, Lisa (May 31, 2007). "The Soul Singer in the Shadows". Esquire.
  20. ^ a b Hundley, Jessica (June 15, 2014). "The singer, whose sexually potent 70s funk blueprint virtually created its own genre, talks about her personal soul revolution". Dazed.
  21. ^ "Betty Davis: Betty Davis / They Say I'm Different". Pitchfork. Retrieved December 23, 2018.
  22. ^ a b c "Betty Davis Chart History". Billboard.
  23. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–1995. Record Research. p. 104.
  24. ^ "Her Act Too Spicy For U.S. Tastes; Betty Davis Finds Success In Europe". Jet. 50 (4): 57. April 15, 1976.
  25. ^ Mahon, Maureen (June 15, 2011). "They Say She's Different: Race, Gender, Genre, and the Liberated Black Femininity of Betty Davis". Journal of Popular Music Studies. 23 (2): 146–165. doi:10.1111/j.1533-1598.2011.01277.x.
  26. ^ "Betty Davis releases first new song since 1979". Thewire.co.uk. Retrieved February 18, 2020.
  27. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 83. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.

Literature[edit]

External links[edit]