Rest in Power

Heartbroken Fans Say Goodbye to Funk Legend Betty Davis

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Funk icon and self-described “sound projectionist” Betty Davis has passed away at the age of 76, and the world is mourning an influential legend.

Though Davis’s fraught relationship with the label that wanted her to conform to industry standards meant that only three Davis albums saw the light of day in the 1970s leading to a long absence of new work, but those albums, produced between 1973 and 1975, spread their influence far and wide. Davis, who considered herself more of a sound artist, also had a year-long, rocky marriage to jazz legend Miles Davis, something that defined her for decades in a sexist, racist industry. Her subject matter was broad and unflinching, and she defied the industry’s expectations to present in a less individualistic way. Though it hurt her music career at the time, her refusal to be anything but herself gained her such fans as Janelle Monáe and Erykah Badu.

If you want to learn more about the legendary artist, look no further than the 2018 documentary Betty: They Say I’m Different.

Reflecting on Davis’s influence, scholar Emily Lordi wrote for the New Yorker in 2018 that: “Janelle Monáe is understandably discussed in terms of the future, but her new work also raises the spectre of the past—not only those figures upon whose legacies she builds, but also the obscured artists who, had they succeeded, might have given her even more traction. Especially in light of the erasure of memory that “Dirty Computer” depicts and resists, we might ask how much freer Monáe and her constituents might be if Davis had thrived. How much bolder might they be if not for the ongoing conservatism and historical amnesia that marks every sexually candid or queer black woman as the “only” and “first”—that requires each one to pioneer the way forward all over again?”

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