Betty Davis, Queen of Funk, Dies at Age 77

Funk and soul singer Betty Davis has passed away at the age of 77. The pioneering artist’s death was confirmed by Davis’ close friend, Danielle Maggio, to Rolling Stone on Wednesday. It was further confirmed that the cause of her death was due to natural causes.

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Davis (née Mabry) had a relatively small amount of commercial success, but the impact of her innovative sound and persona reverberated through the industry for decades. The vast majority of her catalog was recorded between 1964 and 1975 including her hits “Get Ready for Betty,” “It’s My Life,” “If I’m in Luck I Might Get Picked Up,” and “Shut Off the Lights.” She also wrote the Chambers Brothers song, “Uptown (to Harlem).”

Her brazen and gritty sound paralleled the sexually liberating tone of her music, which altogether inspired artists like Prince, Madonna, and Janet Jackson.

Davis also inspired her former husband, the jazz artist Miles Davis, in his craft. Miles credits Betty with introducing him to the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone and inspiring his song “Mademoiselle Mabry.” Shortly after the two singers tied the knot in 1968, however, the marriage ended.

After the release of her first three albums, Davis largely disappeared from the public eye. She became somewhat of a recluse, vanishing from the headlines. In 2018, she told The New York Times: “When I was told that it was over, I just accepted it. And nobody else was knocking at my door.”

The funk icon briefly made a public reappearance in 2017 by participating in the 2017 documentary, Betty: They Say I’m Different.

At the film’s New York City premiere, funk artist Erykah Badu read a letter that Davis had written to preface the film. “Hello, this is Betty. I’m sorry I could not be with everyone this evening,” she wrote. “My life is mysterious at times, even to me, but I am with you all in vibrations and spirit. I hope you enjoy the movie ‘They Say I’m Different.’ It is something deep and personal to me, I am glad to share it all with you. I send all good vibrations and also love. Pure, good love that we all need and should embrace.”

After the annoucement of her death, Davis’ friend of 65 years Connie Portis, made this statement: “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.”

Photo by and courtesy of Robert Brenner.

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