Black Herstory Month: Betty Davis
~In the spirit of Black History Month, we want to share the stories of some of the inspirational women hustlers who came before us. We hope that theses posts spur the desire to further research these pioneers and others you may have always been curious about~
Betty (Mabry) Davis : Years active 1960s-1970
Before ‘Bitches Brew’ there was Betty Davis, a funk prototype who brought rock and blues to mercurial, sublimely sensual heights. She stood on equal ground with men, influencing Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, The Commodores, and former husband, Miles Davis. Not motivated by respect from peers, she remained original, irresistibly free, and a liaison for lost souls, bringing a lot of artists together. The sun climbed higher each day during the ‘60s — late ‘70s because Betty Davis infused her world with passionate love and mouth-watering fierceness.
An unbreakable vortex of music emerged because she transformed her energy of electrifying consciousness into a physical matter of sound. At the age of 12 she wrote a song for the Chambers Brothers, “Uptown to Harlem.” When she turned 17 she left her hometown in Pittsburg to pursue modeling in New York. She was one of the first black women to land a gig in Europe, posing for the cover of Ebony, Seventeen, and Glamour but deemed it mindless and moved on to writing and producing all her own songs. Much past-due reverence is owed in her honor for excelling in every gifted mechanism within: beauty, grit and soul. Every time she took the stage she was embossed with her natural down-to-earth glow and far out fashion statements. She once said wearing an Icelandic sheep coat, seductive hosiery and space-age go-go boots, “This stuff does’t need any concentration and that’s what I really call funky.” A multi-talented badass reflected not only in her style but clearly in her lyrics as well.
Each album she released exudes hedonistic vibes (They Say I’m Different,Nasty Gal, Is it Love or Desire?), but her outside world corrupted that vibe, treating her music as taboo. Many radio stations avoided any air-play because they judged it to be too raunchy. Even one track from the debut album, “If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up,” was considered to be so suggestive that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) found the funk goddess to be a disgrace to her race and various religious groups protested her record, stating they were “downright dangerous.” Although critics disapproved and many record labels turned her away, Betty Davis never toned down for anyone. She is just a misunderstood fox whom trotted with her head held high and made us see the world with a little less innocence, offering us a way into the mysteries of great sex and romance without actually having it.
It was such a shame that society rejected her outspokenness. At least she refrained from commercializing her image and closed the final curtain on her musical career in 1976. Little do most know that her impact extends to Erykah Badu, Lil Kim, and Janelle Monae. Lenny Kravitz, Method Man, and Ice Cube, among others, have sampled her work. Betty was not just a psychedelic rock musician and sex symbol but a visible manifestation of black girl magic. A hieroglyphic deity that one cannot make sense of. The type of music she created opened up your pores, like slowly easing your way into a steamy hot tub, with dissolved acid tabs, pruning your fingertips trying to get a grip of life.
I have mad respect for Betty Davis not because she was careless, she just didn’t give a fuck so to speak or let any ridicule affect any cell in her glorious body. Walking away from the music business was such a raw and true statement of her being. Betty Davis loved herself enough that she left what wasn’t healthy — anything that kept her small. Her hiatus for over 30 years now left many in shock. Some would call it disloyal but I see it as self-loving. There is barely any history out there, she remains elusive, protecting her soul from energy vampires. Which makes her all the more intriguing. Rumors are, a new movie brought by Native Voice Film will release a documentary in early 2017. The movie reveals for the first time the extraordinary unknown story.