Betty Davis, the funk pioneer who was briefly married to jazz legend Miles Davis, died Wednesday at the age of 77 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Born Betty Mabry, the former model began her music career with the 1964 single “Get Ready for Betty.” She also penned the Chambers Brothers 1967 song “Uptown,” which was covered by blues guitarist Joe Louis Walker in 2020.
She changed her name to Betty Davis after marrying Miles Davis in 1968 and appeared on the cover of his “Filles de Kilimanjaro,” album. She also inspired his song, “Mademoiselle Mabry.”
Danielle Maggio, an ethnomusicologist who focused on Davis’ work, tweeted, “Devastated by the passing of my dear friend, pioneering songwriter, singer and producer, #BettyDavis. There was no pain or fear as she left this physical world. Knowing her was the greatest honor of my life. I love you, Betty. Your music and spirit will live on forever.”
Maggio’s husband, Zack Furness, a punk singer and Associate Professor of Communications at Penn State University’s Greater Allegheny campus, tweeted, “RIP to the legendary musician & producer #BettyDavis, who departed this realm today. My wife @saucequeen_pgh was very close w/ her and got to say goodbye along w/ Betty’s close friends & family this week. She was godmother to our son & one of the coolest people I’ll ever know.”
Amie Downs, communications director for Allegheny County, told Rolling Stone, who first broke the news, the cause of death was natural causes.
Although she was only married to Miles for one year, Betty is credited with introducing him to the rock music that inspired his jazz fusion phase that began with 1969’s “In a Silent Way” and 1970’s “Bitches Brew.”
She released her self-titled debut album in 1973, followed by “They Say I’m Different” in 1974 and “Nasty Gal” in 1975.
Although none of her funk albums were hits, she gained a cult following among singers including Erykah Badu and Janelle Monáe. The renewed interest in Davis led to a series of reissues from archival label Light in the Attic, including “Is It Love or Desire?,” the first-ever release of her 1976 fourth album.
In 2017, she was the subject of the documentary, “Betty: They Say I’m Different” and two years later released her first new song in over 40 years, “A Little Bit Hot Tonight,” with Maggio on vocals.
In Rolling Stone’s 2021 Icons and Influences issue, Jamila Woods cited Davis as a major inspiration.“ [I remember] instantly being struck by just the sonic quality of her voice. It’s like she makes me want to listen to what she’s saying. And I don’t think I understood the power of just that for a long time, and she really helped me internalize that.”