Betty Davis, daring and pioneering funk singer, model and songwriter of the 1960s and 1970s, has died aged 77.
Davis died early Wednesday after a brief illness, according to Danielle Maggio, associate producer of the 2017 documentary Betty: They Say I’m Different.
Sometimes referred to as “Madonna before Madonna”, Davis was the rare woman to make funk albums in the 1970s, and her three albums from this era were showcases for her fearless personality and sexuality and her insistence on controlling her material. and its image.
His records sold modestly at the time, but their impact was often cited in the decades that followed.
Born Betty Mabry in Durham, North Carolina, she was still a teenager when she moved to New York in the early 1960s and enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
She would eventually find work as a model for Seventeen and Glamor among other magazines and meet Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone and many other musicians.
She was also releasing her own work, including the singles The Cellar and Get Ready for Betty and she wrote Uptown (to Harlem) for the Chambers Brothers.
She dated Eric Clapton and Robert Palmer among other rock stars, but was best known for her time with Miles Davis. They were only together for a brief period in the 1960s: he alleged – and she denied – that she had had an affair with Hendrix.
But his influence on Miles and the future of jazz lasted much longer. He would credit her for opening it up to the sounds of Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone, among others, leading to his classic 1970 album Bitches Brew (a title she said was her idea), which helped launch the kind of jazz fusion.
“His world was progressive jazz, plus he was a lover of classical music, so there were a lot of things he didn’t notice,” she told the Guardian in 2010.
She didn’t release any new music for decades, but she wasn’t forgotten. Betty Davis and other ’70s albums have been reissued and her music has been heard on Orange Is the New Black and other television series.
In 2019, she broke her long silence with A Little Bit Hot Tonight, a funky mix of Eastern and Western influences that she wrote, arranged and produced and asked Maggio to perform.
“It was a wonderful, surreal experience,” Maggio told The Associated Press.
“As an ethnomusicologist who writes about Betty, it was amazing to see her music-making process firsthand. She taught me the song and taught all the musicians their parts. She was very hands-on and was a amazing producer.