Betty Davis, the pioneering funk singer who issued three albums in the 1970s of raw, gritty, and sexually free music, has passed away at the age of 77, according to Rolling Stone. Her chart presence was minimal. She only had two singles on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, the No. 66-charting “If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up” in 1973 and the No. 97-charting “Shut Off the Lights” in 1975.
Davis’ influence on music was significant, though. Her convention-flaunting clothes, nasty funk compositions, and no-apologies attitude paved the way for a new generation of boundary-pushing pop musicians, such as Prince, Madonna, and Janet Jackson, who would go on to achieve far greater success.
Davis, on the other hand, had vanished from the public view by the time sexual emancipation on the charts, notably from a female standpoint, much less from a Black female perspective, began to make advances in the late 1980s and 1990s. She would remain a hermit for the next 40 years of her life, reappearing briefly in 2017 when she decided to appear in Phil Cox’s documentary, Betty: They Say I’m Different.
Davis’ early musical memories include her grandmother “boogying to Elmore James” when she was a child growing up in rural North Carolina, according to her interviews in the 2017 documentary. By the age of 12, she’d composed her first song, “Bake a Cake of Love,” which caused her neighbors to protest, and her family had relocated to Pittsburgh.
Davis came to New York City when she was 16 to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology. She began modelling but soon became dissatisfied with the industry, instead seeking deeper inspiration in the burgeoning musical underground. She wrote a song for the Chambers Brothers after a 1964 R&B single credited to Betty Mabry, and formed friendships with Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, and Hugh Masekela.
It was her brief marriage to Miles Davis that introduced the jazz icon to the music of Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. RIP.
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