Sadly, last week, the world got a lot less funky. Betty Davis, “Godmother of Funk,” passed away on Feb. 9 from natural causes. She was 77.
The North Carolina native was briefly married to jazz great Miles Davis in the late ‘60s. Davis, who is featured on the cover of Miles’ classic LP Filles de Kilimanjaro, introduced her then-husband to Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, inspiring his move toward the rock and jazz hybrid known as “fusion.”
Davis recorded her first single, “Get Ready For Betty,” as Betty Mabry in 1964. She also penned “Uptown (to Harlem),” which was recorded by the Chambers Brothers in 1967. That song featured in Questlove’s 2021 Oscar-nominated documentary Summer of Soul. [Click here to read Questlove’s comments about the film at HotDocs]. In 1968, Davis released another single, “Live, Love, Learn,” produced by her then-boyfriend, South African jazz icon Hugh Masekela.
Davis cut just three albums of raw, gritty funk: her self-titled debut in 1973, They Say I’m Different in 1974, and major-label debut Nasty Gal in 1975. The raunchy lyrical content was provocative and controversial – a raspy-voiced sexually liberated woman who didn’t hesitate to let you know what turned her on. Rapper and poet Saul Williams once described Davis as “the burning secret of Black womanhood and sensuality as expressed through song.”
After recording only three albums, which were commercial flops but highly influential, Davis abruptly left the music biz and vanished from the public eye. In 2007, Seattle record label Light in the Attic began reissuing her records as well as a previously unreleased LP recorded in 1976. Davis was also the subject of the 2017 documentary Betty: They Say I’m Different. These projects helped bring attention to her sensational music.
Here are three notable tracks – one from each of Ms. Davis’s three groundbreaking albums. We hope this whets your appetite if you’re unfamiliar with her work, because all Betty Davis recordings slap. If you’re already a fan, you now how killer are these tracks.
“Anti Love Song” from Betty Davis
Davis flips the love song script with this funk-rock jam.
“They Say I’m Different” from They Say I’m Different
Arguably her definitive song. Essential.
“Dedicated to the Press” from Nasty Gal
Nasty bass on this deep cut!