Betty Davis
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Betty Davis
Betty Davis
Betty Mabry
Born (1945-07-26) July 26, 1945 (age 73)
Durham, North Carolina, U.S.
OriginNew York City, New York, U.S.
Singer, songwriter, model

Betty Davis (née Mabry; born July 26, 1945)[1] is an American funk and soul singer. She is known as one of the most influential voices of the funk era[2] and a performer who was known for her memorable live shows.


Born in 1945, 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 twelve, was called "I'm Going to Bake That Cake of Love."[3]

Aged 16, she left Pittsboro 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. According to Oliver Wang's They Say I'm Different liner notes, she said, "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."[]

In 2017 a documentary was released entitled "Betty: They Say I'm Different."[5][6]

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.[7]

Personal life

Marriage to Miles Davis

As a 22-year-old model in 1967, Betty met jazz musician Miles Davis who was 19 years her senior. They married the following year in September 1968. 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) includes a song named after her and her photo on the front cover.

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.[8] 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."[9] After accusing her of adultery, he filed for divorce in 1969.[10] 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."[11] Betty and Miles continued to see each other after their divorce.[9] 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.[12]


Davis briefly dated musician Eric Clapton whom she refused to collaborate with because she reportedly felt his work was too banal.[13][14]

In 1975, Davis' lover Robert Palmer helped her facilitate a deal with Island Records. She released her album Nasty Gal shortly after.[14]

Music career

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 for the compilation, Betty Davis, The Columbia Years, 1968-69, released 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 returned to the US around 1972 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.[13] Her first record, Betty Davis, was released in 1973. She released two more studio albums, They Say I'm Different (1974)[15] 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.[16]

Davis remained a cult figure as a singer, due in part to her open sexual attitude, which was controversial for the time. Some of her shows were boycotted, and her songs were not played on the radio due to pressure by religious groups and the NAACP.[17]Carlos Santana recalled Betty as "indomitable - she couldn't be tamed. Musically, philosophically and physically, she was extreme and attractive."[9]

Both Betty Davis (1973) and They Say I'm Different (1974) were re-released by Light in the Attic Records on May 1, 2007. In September 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),[] was shelved by the record label and remained unreleased for 33 years. After some final recording sessions in 1979 (Crashin' from Passion), Davis eventually stopped making music and returned to North Carolina.

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.



Year Single Label 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
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

Studio albums

Year Album Label 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)
2nd studio album; produced by Betty Davis
1975 Nasty Gal Island
Light in the Attic (2009 re-release)
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


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

  • 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


  1. ^ Betty Davis at AllMusic
  2. ^ "A FUNK QUEEN STEPS OUT OF THE SHADOWS / Betty Mabry Davis set the standard with her sassy '70s sound. Finally, she's getting her due". SFGate. Retrieved .
  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". Retrieved .
  5. ^ Betty: They Say I'm Different, retrieved
  6. ^ "Betty they say i'm Different". Betty they say i'm Different. Retrieved .
  7. ^ Cinemax Fri., Dec. 21.
  8. ^ Davis, Miles; Troupe, Quincy (1990). Miles: The Autobiography. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-72582-2.
  9. ^ a b c Spencer, Neil (September 4, 2010). "Miles Davis: The muse who changed him, and the heady Brew that rewrote jazz". The Guardian.
  10. ^ Miles Davis, Quincy Troupe (2012). Miles : The Autobiography. Macmillan. ISBN 9781447218371.
  11. ^ "Miles Davis Signs $300,000 Record Pact; Sheds Wife". Jet. 37 (24): 53. March 12, 1970.
  12. ^ "Madonna before Madonna: The woman who introduced Miles to Hendrix finally speaks". Retrieved .
  13. ^ a b Dremousis, Lisa (May 31, 2007). "The Soul Singer in the Shadows". Esquire.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ "Betty Davis: Betty Davis / They Say I'm Different". Pitchfork. Retrieved .
  16. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-1995. Record Research. p. 104.
  17. ^ Mahon, Maureen (15 June 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.


External links

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