Betty Davis Album Cover

Funk Pioneer, Betty Davis, Dies at 77

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Funk legend Betty Davis has died.

The news was confirmed to Rolling Stone by Davis’ friend Danielle Maggio.

She was 77 and died of natural causes.

Davis was known for her bold, sexually liberated artistry, helping to open up doors previously bolted shut for future female artists.

Born in Durham, North Carolina, Betty Mabry spent her childhood in Pittsburgh. She moved to New York in the 1960s at the age of 17, where she studied fashion, modeled, and took on some minor acting roles. Davis was also the club manager while she pursued a career as a songwriter.

While living in New York, she met jazz musician Miles Davis.

“I went to a dance concert, and I saw this great-looking guy in this suit. I thought he was fantastic-looking. I contacted a photographer I knew and told him about this guy. My friend said it sounded like Miles Davis. I had no idea who he was,” she told The Washington Post in 2018.

They were married just two years later, in 1966. Sadly, the union would only last a year, but the relationship profoundly influenced her art.

Following the demise of her abusive marriage, Davis launched herself into music, delivering overtly sexual avant-garde funk. Her style was as unique as her spirited, gravely vocals, but her failure to adhere to the typical African American singer/songwriter mold caused waves.

Davis pushed back against the white male executives at her record label, who took issue with her raunchy image. She also faced boycotts from Black radio stations around the country, sparked by the NAACP.

“I thought they were for the advancement of colored people, correct? But they were stopping my advancement. They were stopping me from making a living,” Davis told the outlet. “I wrote songs about sex, and that was sort of unheard of then. So that’s what I think my influence was. It was very sexually oriented,” she says.

Davis would go on to record three albums—her self-titled debut arrived in 1973, 1974’s “They Say I’m Different” and “Nasty Gal” in 1975.

She is best known for her tracks, “Get Ready for Betty,” “It’s My Life,” “If I’m in Luck I Might Get Picked Up,” and more. She was also the fierce pen behind the Chambers Brothers song “Uptown (to Harlem).”

Several mainstream artists have cited her as a significant influence on their careers, including Macy Gray and Janelle Monáe.

After the release of her last album, Davis bowed out of the music industry and moved to Pittsburgh, her home for more than four decades.

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