Betty Davis, groundbreaking funk diva and ex-wife of Miles Davis, dead at 77
Betty Davis, a funk music trailblazer who was married to jazz great Miles Davis, died Wednesday at 77.
The boundary-smashing artist died of natural causes at 4:40 a.m. at her home in for Homestead, Pennsylvania, according to longtime friend Connie Portis.
“It is with great sadness that I share the news of the passing of Betty Davis, a multitalented music influencer and pioneer rock star, singer, songwriter and fashion icon,” Portis said. “Most of all, Betty was a friend, aunt, niece, and beloved member of her community of Homestead, Pennslvania, and of the worldwide community of friends and fans.”
“At a time to be announced, we will pay tribute to her beautiful, bold and brash persona. Today we cherish her memory as the sweet, thoughtful and reflective person she was. …There is no other,” she added.
With her provocative image, erotic lyrics and raspy purr, Davis broke ground on the male-dominated funk scene and developed a cult following with raw, rapturous and irreverent songs such “Your Man My Man,” “If I’m in Luck I Might Get Picked Up,” “They Say I’m Different” and “Shut Off The Lights.”
Before marrying Miles Davis in 1968, she was known as Betty Mabry, a professional model who frequented a ‘60s watering hole The Cellar with varied associations to musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone and Hugh Masekela.
She also wrote the Chambers Brothers song “Uptown (to Harlem),” which was included on their 1968 opus “The Time Has Come.”
Born in Durham, North Carolina, Davis started her recording career in the mid-1960s after leaving Pittsburgh to enroll at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.
In 1968, after two years of dating, she married Davis — who was 19 years her senior — becoming his second wife.
She graced the cover of his 1968 album “Filles de Kilimanjaro,” and was the inspiration behind his song “Mademoiselle Mabry.”
Although she served as a great influence to reinventing his style and sound, their marital union lasted just a year.
In his autobiography, the legendary trumpeter referred to her as “young and wild.” His seminal “Bitches Brew” was reportedly an homage to her.
Melding rock, jazz, soul and funk throughout her lascivious lyricism, Betty Davis recorded most of her music between 1964 and 1975 on various recording labels.
She released “They Say I’m Different” in 1974 and a year later recorded the album “Nasty Gal” for Island Records.
The funk diva’s legacy has lived on through the unabashed musicality and spunky fashion sensibilities of a young generation of Black female performers that followed, most notably Grammy Award-winner Erykah Badu, Black Women Rock! Founder Jessica Care Moore and neo-soul trailblazer Joi — who recorded a rousing rendition of ‘If I’m in Luck I Might Get Picked Up” in 1995.
“I was introduced to Betty’s music in the early ‘90s via the gentlemen of Fishbone, who I was working with at the time,” Joi said in a 2018 interview. “Just out of the blue they were like, “Have you heard of Betty Davis? You need to know who that is … ” Because they had actually seen her perform in Europe, they spoke of similarities and were insistent that I know who she was. The first song that I heard from her was ‘If I’m In Luck I Just Might Get Picked Up’ and I was transfixed. She felt like the missing link. … That’s what it was for me.
In 2012, Los Angeles-based band Zig Zags teamed up with legendary punk rock artist Iggy Pop for a cover of “If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up.”
After being disillusioned by the music business, Davis retired and lived a reclusive life in the Pittsburgh area.
The focus of the 2017 documentary “Betty: They Say I’m Different” — streaming on Amazon Prime Video — she later released her first song in 40 years, “A Little Bit Hot Tonight.”
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