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Betty Davis, Funk Icon, Dies at 77

Betty Davis
(Credit: Anthony Barboza/Getty Images)

Betty Davis, the trailblazing funk and soul musician, has died at the age of 77. A statement on Davis’ website confirmed the news of her death. She died of natural causes

“At 4:40 a.m. EST on February 9, 2022, visionary singer, songwriter, producer, and fashion icon Betty Mabry Davis began her eternal rest,” the statement began.

“It is with great sadness that I share the news of the passing of Betty Davis, a multi-talented music influencer and pioneer rock star, singer, songwriter, 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,” Connie Portis, Davis’ friend of 65 years, said.

Rolling Stone was first to report Davis’ death.

Born on July 26, 1944, Davis was born Betty Mabry. Her debut single, “Get Ready for Betty,” was released in 1964 and after a short marriage to composer Hugh Masekela, she began a relationship with Miles Davis. Betty is credited with introducing Miles to rock (she was friends with Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone) and thus, began his jazz fusion phase. Following her divorce, Davis went on to pursue fashion modeling (which is what brought her to New York City as a 16-year-old before turning to music) before returning to music and creating her own songs.

With the release of Betty Davis, They Say I’m Different and Nasty Gal from 1973-1975, Davis cemented herself as an ahead-of-her-time force to be reckoned with. Two singles from that stretch of albums, “If I’m in Luck I Might Get Picked Up” and “Shut Off the Lights,” landed on Billboard’s R&B Singles chart. Other iconic Davis songs include the aforementioned “Get Ready for Betty” and “It’s My Life.”

Though her career would stall in the late 1970s mainly because the times weren’t ready for her (something she acknowledged), Davis’ influence stretches far and wide. Her albums would go on to be appreciated long after their original release dates.

“One can hardly imagine Prince, Erykah Badu, or Outkast without the influence of Betty Davis. Her style of raw and revelatory punk-funk defies any notions that women can’t be visionaries in the worlds of rock and pop. In recent years, rappers from Ice Cube to Talib Kweli have rhymed over her intensely strong but sensual music,” the statement on her site said.

A documentary about her life was released in 2017.