Betty Mabry Davis, dubbed the Queen of Funk, was born on July 16, 1945, in Durham, North Carolina, as an R&B composer, singer, and model. She was, however, raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She wrote “I’m Going to Bake That Cake of Love” when she was 12 years old.
Davis, who graduated from Pittsburgh’s Westinghouse High School in 1962 at the age of 17, went to New York City and enrolled in the Fashion Institute of Technology. She worked as a runway model for Ebony, Glamour, and Seventeen magazines while there and traveled to London, England to model.
Davis released the single “Get Ready for Betty” in 1964. Four years later, on September 8, 1968, she married Miles Davis, the legendary jazz trumpeter. Miles filed for divorce in 1969, claiming she was immature. Betty, on the other hand, is credited with introducing Miles to psychedelic rock, transforming his jazz musical style into jazz fusion.
Betty Davis formed the Funk House band in 1973 and released her debut album, Betty Davis, on Just Sunshine Records. It failed to chart. However, later that year, the single “If I’m in Luck, I Might Get Picked Up” peaked at number 66 on the R&B chart. She released the album They Say I’m Different the following year, 1974, followed by Nasty Gal in 1975. Her single “Shut Off the Lights” reached number 97 on the R&B chart that year. While the music on these albums was theoretically and philosophically sophisticated, it did not resonate with pop and R&B audiences and did not provide her with financial rewards. Furthermore, mainstream radio stations were hesitant to play her most musically daring recordings.
Despite this, her work drew the attention of music critics and a global audience. Davis appeared at the Festival Jazz-Rock at the Circuit Paul Ricard in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France, in 1976.
Davis took a 19-year hiatus from recording while continuing to tour. Finally, Davis released the albums Hangin’ out in Hollywood on Charly Records and Crashin’ from Passion on Razor & Tie Records in 1995 and 1996, respectively.
Davis released the collection Anti Love: The Best of Betty Davis in 2000. Davis’ album They Say I’m Different was reissued by Light in the Attic Records seven years later in 2007, and Nasty Gal was reissued two years later in 2009, 24 years after its initial release, and reached no. 54 on the US R&B chart and no. 96 in Australia. Is It Love or Desire? was also reissued that year by Light in the Attic Records, indicating that Davis was gaining new fans. Davis’ most recent recorded composition, “A Little Bit Hot Tonight,” was released in 2019.
Betty Mabry Davis died on February 9, 2022, in Homestead, Pennsylvania, of natural causes. She was 77 years old. She leaves a liberating artistic legacy that would be emulated by contemporary artists such as Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B.