‘Queen of Funk’ Betty Davis Was a Larger Than Life Icon, But Her Genius Was Never Recognized – The Daily Aztec
Before Megan thee Stallion and Cardi B launched into the mainstream with displays of confident sensuality, Betty Davis, aka “the queen of funk,” had adoring men, feverish radio disc jockeys and Bible-pounding mothers gasp at its thrilling sex appeal.
Like many black artists who pushed the boundaries of musical possibility in the 60s and 70s, Davis never received the praise and adoration she deserved. Plain and simple. Racism and misogyny played a large part, with her voice being silenced by those who never attempted to understand her.
Born Betty Mabry, Davis’ musical journey began at age 16 when she moved to New York City with ambitions of a modeling career. She quickly became an important figure in the Greenwich Village counterculture scene of the ’60s and began recording music under her birth name while appearing on the “Seventeen”, “Ebony” and “Glamour” series. “.
While living in New York, Davis met several up-and-coming artists, including Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, and began to make a name for herself as a songwriter, penning songs like “Uptown (To Harlem)” by the Chambers Brothers, an underrated. classic that finally got its due in Questlove’s “Summer of Soul” documentary. She was a perfectly emblematic character of this artistic period of the “change of times”.
But that all changed in 1968 when Davis (then still going by the name Betty Mabry) entered into a relationship with jazz pioneer Miles Davis. During their brief and rocky year-long marriage, Davis introduced him to modern fashion as well as psychedelic pioneers Hendrix and Stone, sparking Miles Davis’ jazz fusion epiphany as he began to incorporate guitars. guitars and synthesizers in his repertoire.
Davis was also his creative and aesthetic muse, appearing on the cover of his 1968 album “Daughters of Kilimanjaro” and inspiring the title of Miles Davis’ most influential album “Bitches Brew”. Davis’s inspiration on her husband was monumental and changed the entire landscape of the jazz genre. However, the musical triumphs of their marriage was undermined by Miles Davis’ unstable nature, evidenced by constant jealousy, paranoia and abuse, which quickly ended things.
So far, all of the loose singles and unreleased tracks Davis had recorded over the years have either been tossed aside or put in a vault, only seeing the light of day in the 21st century. Davis then moved to London for modeling work, before finding a home in San Francisco after writing songs and planning musical projects overseas.
Davis had intended to record a project with San Francisco rock band Santana, but after those plans fell through, she recorded her first solo album with her backing band Funkhouse. Her self-titled debut album “Betty Davis” was released in 1973 and was a bold introduction to her raunchy erotica, as well as the deep, screaming voice she used to sing.
However, things really came together on her second album “They Say I’m Different”, which can be described as a wild and funky, raw, exciting and truly “different” odyssey. Songs like “He was a big monster” and “Don’t call him no Trampwere provocative and funky and showed that women can be just as mean as men when it comes to music.
Between the release of “Betty Davis” and “They Say I’m Different,” Davis began to gain a reputation as an explosive live-action actor.
When she graced the stage, Davis sported a luscious afro, often paired with fishnet stockings, knee-high boots and sparkly bikini tops. She screamed and yelped into the microphone while spinning and leaving a lingering inflection over the nastiest parts of her lyrics. (Before Jill Scott faked oral sex on a microphone, Davis used hers as an accessory penis.) Davis was a palette of lopsided sex appeal, something many audiences weren’t ready for or simply didn’t appreciate. its vulgarity.
The pinnacle of Davis’ short career was his third studio album and his first major label project was “Nasty Gal”, released in 1975 on Island Records. His wickedness and audacity culminated here, especially on the title track.
However, any artist who toed the line between self-expression and obscenity risked censorship, and this was especially true for Davis.
During the 1970s, with the rise of second-wave feminism and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) movement, actresses such as Pam Grier were criticized for portraying overtly sexual black characters like “Foxy Brown” and Davis. was lumped together with this so-called unruly image of black women. Moments like this showed that the era of free love, empowerment, and the most divine and vulnerable womanhood only applied to white women. Any black woman who opposed the norm was ostracized and criticized for being a negative representation of the whole sex.
Unlike Davis, the NAACP partnered with conservative religious organizations to boycott his shows and block his songs from airplay. There was no objection to the male rock stars taking off their shirts and going wild for the attention of the ladies, but Davis presented a problem. She was an overconfident woman who defended her sexuality, and for that, she had to be stopped.
Despite his obvious talent, Davis’ career never translated into historic success. Not even a modest success. With little or no radio airplay, and even with the backing of 70s icons like Richard Pryor and Carlos Santana who understood the talent they were experimenting with, his career suddenly ended in 1976. Davis was dropped by her record label and quietly retired. , or disappeared as those who know her say.
Davis’ life after music was considered mythical with his withdrawal from the public sphere adding to his presence as a larger than life cult figure. She showed up for a brief stint in Tokyo in the mid-’80s while performing with a new band, but it was only temporary and Davis dismissed the idea of a full-scale comeback.
Davis wasn’t going to let anyone stop her from doing things the way she wanted and she refused to compromise her vision. Yet this rejection by the industry had its consequences.
Before dying on February 9, 2022, Davis lived a life of loneliness, even refusing to appear on camera in the documentary about her life (“Betty – They Say I’m Different”). When she died, several articles and tributes were written to honor her legacy, but Davis had been so broken at the time of her passing that even when acceptance came, it was too little, too late.
Be sure to appreciate the veracity of today’s “mean girls” before they cease to exist.