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Betty Davis, Legendary Queen of Funk, Dead at 77

Davis’ death was confirmed by a close friend and ethnomusicologist, Danielle Maggio.

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Photo: Fin Costello/Redferns (Getty Images)

Betty Davis, the legendary funk and soul singer who was once married to jazz legend Miles Davis and left an unforgettable body of musical expression, has died at 77.

According to Rolling Stone, Davis’ close friend, Danielle Maggio who is an ethnomusicologist and did extensive research on Davis’ music, confirmed the death. The communications director of Allegheny County, where Davis lives, said the cause of death was natural causes.

In a Facebook post, Constance Portis, a friend of Davis said, “It is with great sadness that I share the news of the passing of Betty Davis, a multi-talented music influencer, pioneer rock star, singer, songwriter, arranger, model, 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.”


It continued:

Personal statement from a friend. I was blessed that Betty and I remained friends for 65 years. After her brief, impactful music career, mental health challenges forced her to return home to live with her mother. During that time many thought she was in hiding and did not want to be found. This is not true. Betty was receiving help to find a balance in her life while continuing to write music and oversee her music business. From our early teens to her passing we remained friends and I cared for her through the many stages of her physical and mental health. In the past few years, primarily with the release of the documentary “They Say I’m Different,” Betty reconnected with friends from around the world and made new and loving friends who produced the film. Her physical health declined rapidly within a two-week period after being diagnosed with cancer. In her last days, she rested in lovely surroundings and passed away in the early morning of February 9, 2022. In the coming days, exciting ‘official’ social media sites will be launched to pay tribute and allow fans and admirers to share their Betty Davis stories.

According to Rolling Stone, most of Davis’ discography was recorded in an 11-year period from 1964 and 1975. Known for having some of the Blackest album covers, she first started making music under her birth name, Betty Marbry and released her first single “Get Ready for Betty” in 1964. She wrote the song “Uptown (to Harlem)” by the Chambers Brothers in the late 1960s which has gained recent success for being featured in Questloves’s Oscar-nominated documentary Summer of Soul.

In 1968 she married Miles Davis, one of the most acclaimed and influential musicians in the history of jazz. She was the inspiration behind the 1968 song, “Mademoiselle Mabry” by Davis.


More from Rolling Stone on Davis’ career:

While recordings Betty made with Miles’ band during their marriage remained shelved, she finally released her self-titled debut album in 1973 for Woodstock promoter Michael Lang’s Just Sunshine Records. Davis recruited Sly and the Family Stone producer Greg Errico and an outfit of West Coast musical greats like Larry Graham and Merl Saunders. Two more albums quickly followed: 1974’s They Say I’m Different and 1975’s Nasty Gal.

While none of the funk albums were a commercial success, Davis gained a cult following for her sexuality-laden lyrics, highlighted on songs like “Shut Off the Light’’ and “If “I’m in Luck I Might Get Picked Up.” Her candid, liberating attitudes trail blazed a path for artists like Prince and Madonna in the ensuing decade.

Following that three-year spurt of material — and following a year in Japan where she spent time with silent monks — Davis abruptly left the music industry, moving to the Pittsburgh area where she lived for the next 40 years without making new music.


Davis was the topic of the 2017 documentary Betty: They Say I’m Different and after a 40-year hiatus from music released “A Little Bit Hot Tonight” in 2019.

Truly a legend in the music industry who inspired a generation of music greats like Erykah Badu and Janelle Monae, Davis will be missed by many who were inspired by her willingness to be authentic in everything she did.