• Denholm Hewlett

[Music/Culture] Betty Davis - The Original Queen of Funk

The uncompromising and mythological godmother of funk Betty Davis, the original soul sister diva who challenged the establishment of 1970's America and transformed the musical landscape for female artists forever.

Betty Davis was the daring femme fatale who redefined and liberated the creative expectations surrounding black female musicians and performers for generations. Betty Davis's musical story is entirely unique and mostly unknown, she was the black female pioneer that the world needed but failed to appreciate, her swift yet striking career was followed by decades of her silence and obscurity. Betty Davis is funk's greatest kept secret and a truly mythological musical figure, a strange and beautiful character whose powerfully sensual brand of raw funk-rock-punk fusion just wasn't accepted.

Born in North Carolina, 26 July 1945, Betty Mabry Davis's music is the sheer definition of intense female strength and sensuality. The diva sang bluntly about sex on her terms, demanding or disregarding satisfaction with her metallic, lascivious and raspy vocals. Betty was a visionary who defied all the notions that woman couldn't dominate the world's of punk rock, soul, funk and everything in-between.

Betty's short but impactful career as a singer, songwriter, band leader and producer resulted in a trio of explosive and libidinous albums; Betty Davis (1973), They Say I'm Different (1974), and Nasty Girl (1975) - featuring invigoratingly raw performances that were unprecedented for the time and garnered a lot of controversy. Betty was doing this 30 years before anyone else, there was nobody to compare her too at the time, even Tina Turner wasn't out of husband's shadow until later that decade.

She was a flamboyant, self-realised creative black woman who was truly ahead of her time and helped paved the way for many future artists to express and flaunt their undiluted sensuality and desires over the grooves of punk, rock, soul and funk. Nobody could compare to Betty with her silver go-go boots, her formidable towering afro, and her visionary live costumes which were as shiny and futuristic as they were seductive.

It's hard to imagine the genre-fusing, culture-crossing musical magic of contemporary artists like Erykah Badu, Janelle Monae, Outkast, Prince, Rick James, The Roots and even early Red Hot Chilli Peppers, without taking into consideration the trailblazing influence of Betty Davis's idiosyncratic R&B and punk-rock flavour and her memorable and raunchy live performances. In recent years, rap artists from Ice Cube to Talib Kweli to Ludacris have been sampling and rhyming over Betty's intensely sensual funkadelic music.

Betty started her career as a model in New York City In 1966, where she became acquainted with many upcoming musicians and artists and also met her future husband, the Jazz trumpeter legend Miles Davis. During their one year of marriage, Betty completely influenced, transformed and revolutionised Miles Davis, she introduced him to all the new music and fashion trends of the era, she also personally introduced Miles to her musician friends, the psychedelic guitarist Jimi Hendrix and smooth funk pioneer Sly Stone.

Betty Davis' influence on Miles Davis was truly profound and organic, she completely reinvented his musical style, this partnership transformed the soundscape of music forever. Miles has credited Betty for planting the creative seeds of his jazz-fusion explorations, triggering him to connect a wah-wah pedal with his trumpet, which was completely unheard of.

Betty Davis on the cover of "Filles de Kilimanjaro"

Betty's influence on Miles resulted in groundbreaking albums like Filles de Kilimanjaro (1968), In a Silent Way (1969) and Bitches Brew (1970), the original title for that double LP was Witches Brew, but Betty convinced Miles to change it to the more controversial Bitches Brew.

Close friends and band members have claimed there were two versions of Betty; the on-stage performer; raunchy, sensual, dominating, and the private Betty, who was just that, private. She was a clear headed, free-spirited women who just wanted people to hear her music and to feel love and appreciation her talents and hard work. She wrote, recorded and produced all three of her albums by herself and despite being loved by many during the dawn of the disco-funk era, Betty's albums never got much radio play and she was strangely never invited to perform on Soul Train.

Betty should have been a massive star, she had talent, charisma, attitude, she had everything, but she was ultimately a free spirit and would never let anyone compromise her artistic vision and freedom. Betty represents a symbol for women's liberation and has become an almost mystical figure. She walked the fine line between madness and genius but ended up becoming one of the most truly original and stylish artists in music history.

Check out Betty Davis' three stunning albums below and a trailer for a new documentary "They Say I'm Different" (2019)

~ Psychic Garden

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