Betty Davis Dies at 77

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Betty Davis, iconic Funk and Soul singer, has died at the age of 77. Davis reportedly passed away this morning in Homestead, Pennsylvania, according to a press release. Davis was known for both her own musical career, as well as her marriage to Jazz legend Miles Davis. Rolling Stone confirmed Davis’ death through ethnomusicologist Daniell Maggio, who was a close friend of the singer. The cause of death is currently being reported as “natural causes,” according to an official for Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

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Betty Davis’ friend Connie Portis released a statement today, which reads:

“It is with great sadness that I share the news of the passing of Betty Davis, a multi-talented music influencer and pioneer rock star, singer, songwriter, and fashion icon. Most of all, Betty was a friend, aunt, niece, and beloved member of her community of Homestead, Pennsylvania, 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.”

Betty Davis was born in 1944 or 1945 (record is unclear) as “Betty Mabry” from Durham, North Carolina. She was a fan of blues musicians like B.B. King, Jimmy Reed, and others growing up, and wrote her own first song at age 12, titled “I’m Going to Bake That Cake of Love.”

The same year as her first song Betty’s family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she resided through her early teens, before breaking out and heading to New York City at 16, where she enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology and lived with her aunt. Mabry dipped into the folk culture of Greenwich Village in the early ’60s, as well as the uptown club the Cellar, which brought all types of creatives together. Mabry sang, played records, and even modeled in that time; she also met all sorts of icons, like Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, and Lou Courtney – the latter even producing her first single, “The Cellar”.

Mabry continued modeling, making records, and even wrote some for others; she did modestly well in that time, and collaborated with a lot of famous people, from the Chambers Brothers to trumpeter Hugh Masekela, whom she was romantically involved with until the late 1960s (she was also briefly romantically linked to Eric Clapton). It was at that point (spring 1969) that Mabry met and became involved with Miles Davis, recording several songs with him. Mabry and Davis were only married a year; afterward, she moved to London to continue modeling.

Betty moved back to the US after about a year abroad, with the intention of doing songs with Santana. Instead, she ended up going her own way, writing and arranging her own songs with a funk band. Her first record Betty Davis was released in 1973, followed by two more albums and a major label debut, Nasty Gal (1975). She never achieved big commercial success in the US (more in the UK) – in large part due to her unabashed sexual persona and lyrics, which were extremely taboo for that era. Betty Davis stopped making music in 1979 and settled down in Pittsburgh again, remaining in Pennsylvania thereafter.

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In the years since she bowed out of the industry, Betty Davis has since a resurgence in her icon status. Her final recording sessions became two “bootleg” albums released in the mid-1990s; in 2000 her greatest hits album Anti Love: The Best of Betty Davis was released; in 2017 a documentary about her was also released. Davis released her first song in forty years (“A Little Bit Hot Tonight”) was released in 2019, with Danielle Maggio performing it.

Rest In Peace Betty Davis. We wish her family and friends our condolences in their time of mourning.

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