The story of the amazing Betty Davis, an American icon of funk and soul

"They were stopping my advancement. They were stopping me from making a living," Davis recalls. "I was writing songs about things that were unheard of back then. Here's what I think of my influences: it was very sexy!"

Biography of Betty Davis: early years, music, life with Miles Davis

Betty Davis - American singer in the style of funk and soulknown for her memorable live performances. An insanely flamboyant funk diva, Davis has combined a solid emotional realism Tina Turner, futuristic fashion sense David Bowie and fashion sense Miles DavisIt's easy to imagine the public's laughter when a 23-year-old model married a famous musician twice her age, but Davis was no gold digger: she attracted Miles to Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone (providing the spark that led to his musical re-imagining in the songs of In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew), and then proved her own talent by releasing three terrific solo records mid 70s years...

Early years

Charming Betty Davis in her youth...
The charming Betty Davis as a young ...

Almost 40 years ago, millions of people knew the songs Davis, when she was a funk legend known for her sexy personality and her marriage to By Miles Davis. However, since the end of 1980s Davis immersed herself in a quiet and humble life outside of Pittsburgh: today, decades later, most people don't recognize her when she's shopping at the local supermarket Giant Eagle...Of course, the crazy afro hairstyle and obscenely high thigh-high boots are gone, but - we can still be satisfied with a rich heritage and biography...

An icon of an entire era, Betty born and raised in Durham, North Carolina, in July 1945But moved to Homesteadwhen she went to kindergarten. Like many black families who emigrated From the south to PittsburghDavis's father took a job at a steel mill. The future star, her parents, and her brother settled in a small house... After graduating high school at age 17, Betty took the company bus. Greyhound in New Yorkwhere she enrolled at the city's Fashion Institute of Technology. There the girl 5 feet 7 inches tall She modeled for catwalks and magazines, writing songs all the time...

"I started writing music when I was 12 years old. I used to drive the neighbors crazy because I used to sing in my mother's kitchen all the time!" - laughs Betty.

Meet Miles Davis

Betty Davis and Miles Davis
Betty Davis and Miles Davis

In 1966 year Davis was fascinated by the jazz trumpet player when she visited the club Greenwich Village:

"I went to a concert and saw a handsome guy in a suit... I thought he looked fantastic! I contacted a photographer I know, and I told him about this guy. My friend said it looked like Miles Davis. I had no idea who he was..."

A few days later, at a different club, Betty ran into that mysterious guy again... And yes: he turned out to be Miles Davis! This time, she said, the jazz legend sent one of his employees to ask her out for a drink during one of the breaks in his set! As a result, the two met for several years before consummating their relationship in 1968 year... At the time of the marriage Betty was 24 yearswhereas Miles is 42.. The singer would later say:

"I learned a lot from Miles musically! I always told him, 'I should have been born your daughter...'". Our relationship was very instructive as far as my music was concerned: our communication broadened my horizons... I listened to Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky..."

Betty, in turn, introduced her husband to such contemporary musicians of the time as Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. Their relationship was short and very complicated... In his autobiography 1989 of the year Miles Davis wrote about his relationship with the young woman he eventually married. He described her as "a beautiful young singer and songwriter" who he felt had influenced his personal and professional life. With a background in fashion, she got him to trade in his button-down suits for leather suits and colorful scarves. He, in turn, persuaded her to sing. Miles Davis credits him with changing her style from classical jazz to more popular jazz.

"If Betty sang today, she would be something like Madonna, something like Prince, only a woman. She was the beginning of it all when she sang as Betty Davis. She was ahead of her time!" he wrote.

Betty Davis
Betty Davis

Over time, however, their relationship deteriorated:

"She was very difficult to live with... We got to the point where I was very unhappy being married. I always said that if you're unhappy with someone, you shouldn't be with that person..."

Musical career

Betty Davis
Betty Davis

Betty Davis had a great influence not only on her husband, but on an entire generation of artists, including Macy Gray and Janelle Monnet. Her songs have been tried by many contemporary artists, including rappers Ice Cube and Method Manas well as a rocker Lenny Kravitz. Davis herself calls herself "a projectionist, not a singer. She was not Aretha FranklinBut she had an unusual voice. She could not be categorized... Her voice was husky, not the stylistic voice of many successful black singers of the early days. 1970'ssuch as Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, or Dionne Warwick. Betty was a solo artist, singing about her sexual prowess when she began recording her music after her divorce from Miles...Davis has widely demonstrated her sexual confidence in her tune "Nasty Gal." in 1975. On the cover of the album the singer was depicted in her negligee, lying down with her legs spread.

Diane Williams was a popular radio disc jockey at the Washington radio station WHUR-96.3 FM, a Howard University radio station from 1973 to 1975. According to her, Davis' music was constantly changing as the popularity of go-go grew...

"It was active capital. And people who loved go-go understood its version of funk, R&B, soul and rock," Williams says. "Considering what was going on musically at the time with Sly, Jimi Hendrix and all the other bands, I think funk was popular at the time. Betty was the first woman to successfully combine these genres. She was a funk rock artist. She was the funk-rockest performer..."

Simply put, in those years, people didn't see women like her: she was sexy, she was fashionable... She was very avant-garde and appropriate for that era! You could say she was a revolutionary.

The main stages of creativity

Betty Davis...
Betty Davis...

Back to top 70s Betty Davis began working on a set of songs and enlisted many great musicians to bring them to life: Greg Errico and Larry Graham of Sly Stone, Michael Carabello of Santana, the Poynter Sisters and members of Tower Of Power...Her eponymous debut album finally came out in 1973, and while it had no commercial impact, it was a groundbreaking compilation with many brilliant songs! Davis was a sexual predator who didn't take prisoners, but screamed, cooed, purred and cooed through extrovert material such as "Anti Love Song," "Shoo-B-Doop And Cop Him," and "He Was a Big Freak.:

Religious groups protested against many of her concerts (some shows were even cancelled), and radio stations understandably refused to broadcast her extreme works... Meanwhile, Davis was almost unrelenting with her second and third albums. Really... They Say I'm Different and Nasty Gal had little effect on her success, either. Although she would have made a great disco star, Betty Davis later largely disappeared from the music scene... Already in the noughties Light in the Attic Records reissued three of Davis's released studio albums, as well as released her first unreleased recording 1976 of the year entitled "Is It Love or Desire?"

Difficulties and conflicts...

Betty Davis
Betty Davis

As far as documentary details go, Davis often clashed with recording executives, most of whom were white men, who tried to force her to act a certain way... And although she had a large audience, NAACP announced a boycott of black radio stations across the country that played her music, arguing that Davis and her lyrics were not positive role models for black America At the time.

"They were stopping my advancement. They were stopping me from making a living," Davis recalls. "I was writing songs about things that were unheard of back then. Here's what I think of my influences: it was very sexy!" she adds.

Her independence eventually led to the end of her career after struggling with record company executives: Betty dug herself a hole. She refused to compromise or change... In fact, Davis herself admits that she ruined her own career of her own free will. By the end of 1970's The label Island Records turned her down, and Davis couldn't find another sponsor. Then, in 1980 year, her father died. Davis returned to Homesteadto live with her mother… According to relatives, the death of her father was something for Betty that she struggled to overcome: she struggled with mental illness, but did not want to talk about it… Even today, after so many years, Davis admits, that after the death of her father she had a "failure". “That's it,” she says.


Today, afro-curls and thigh-high boots are a thing of the past. She wears "comfortable" shoes, and her once luxurious hair is neatly combed. Davis says she was just doing the music she believed in, but that was a different time, she says, and now she's focused on her "quiet life":

“I like that no one knows who I am when they see me. I like to live quietly…”

However, it's good to remember that she used to make good music and make people smile...

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