Speed Reads

R.I.P.

Funk singer Betty Davis dies at 77

Betty Davis, the funk singer and ex-wife of Miles Davis, has died. She was 77. 

Davis' death was confirmed Wednesday by Rolling Stone, which cited her close friend Danielle Maggio. She reportedly died from natural causes. 

Davis was active from the mid-1960s into the 1970s with singles like "Get Ready for Betty," and she released her debut album, Betty Davis, in 1973. She followed it up with the 1974 album They Say I'm Different and a third album, Nasty Gal, in 1975. The music wasn't commercially successful at the time, but she "left an underappreciated yet trailblazing body of work," Rolling Stone wrote in its obituary, noting Davis particularly earned a "cult following for her sexuality-laden lyrics." She was also married to Miles Davis for a year and appeared on the cover of his album Filles de Kilimanjaro

Davis had mostly stepped back from public life in recent years, but she gave a few interviews in 2018 to promote a documentary about her, Betty: They Say I'm Different. "I didn't just fade off the planet," she told The Washington Post. "I just started living a quiet life back here. I just decided that period of my life had changed." Speaking to The New York Times, she said she "never considered myself a great singer," but "I could connect with the ambience of a song." She released her first new song in decades, "A Little Bit Hot Tonight," in 2019. 

In his 1989 autobiography, Miles Davis wrote that "if Betty were singing today, she'd be something like Madonna; something like Prince, only as a woman," per the Post. "She was the beginning of all that when she was singing as Betty Davis. She was ahead of her time." Indeed, writer Hanif Abdurraqib reflected Wednesday that the "​​reach of her influence & sonic lineage is immense," so much so that "you've heard her, even if you think you've never heard her."