Sunday, October 7, 2012

"Betty's Story" @ The Brooklyn Museum

This months cover design by Aleksandar Ares,
original photo by K.K.W.
Nucomme & The Curators: "Betty's Story", a musical tribute to Betty Mabry Davis. Article & photos by K.K.W

Betty Mabry Davis. (image taken from the musical).
Its flavor: funk-rock nostalgia with ample sex appeal bordering on a cabaret/burlesque act. The flow at one point made me think of "School-house rock" cartoons (cool & informative), except this would be an adult version. Their method was powerful visuals evoking a past still felt deep within the present via those who know, and those who will come to know, sooner or later. Spoken word riding parallel to the vibrant music invigorating you, every step of the way.    
The Iris & Gerald Cantor auditorium. 
It was like a cult-funk rock gathering, bringing you closer to "The Mysteries" of "The Great Lady", the Goddess, she who is in fact all great women, the "Black Athena" of her day. Part musical tribute, black history, women's history, and feminism. The narrator's echoed throughout the auditorium and deep inside of you.   
Betty Mabry Davis. (image taken from the musical).
Born on July 26th 1945, Mabry left Pittsburg for New York at 16 and began studying at The Fashion Institute Of Technology while living with her aunt. It was there she began soaking up the Greenwich Village culture of the 1960's, associating herself with frequenters of "The Cellar" (a hip uptown multiracial club). To support herself she took up work as a model, appearing in photo spreads in Seventeen, Glamor, and Ebony. More then just a pretty face and a personality, she was an extremely talented singer/song writer, her first single was "The Cellar", and yet her first professional gig was not until she wrote "Uptown(to Harlem)" for the Chambers Brothers.    
Betty Mabry Davis. (image taken from the musical).
Mabry had already known such greats as Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone when she met Miles Davis in 1967. It was she that introduced him to pyschedelic rock and Funk, planting the seeds that would have a major impact on his music career, bringing about the birth of Jazz Fusion. As the tribute musical to her said last night, "Miles was at the top of his career when he met her, she took him over the top." They would be married in September 1968, and though it would last only a year, that brief stormy union would come to define a musical era. 

Its her image on the cover of Miles' album "Filles De Kilimanjaro" (1968), which includes a song named after and about her -"Mademosille Mabry (miss Mabry)". His album "Bitches Brew" is in part a full on result of him having met her. It was she who convinced him to name such. After the marriage ended she moved to the U.K to further pursue her modeling career and write music with the intention of recording songs with Santana. Instead she would work a group of west coast funk musicians to make her own recordings. 

Her first release being "Betty Davis" (1973), the next "They say I'm different" (1974), and her major label debut on Island Records, "Nasty Gal" (1975). None of the three albums were a commercial success, though she would remain a cult figure as a singer. The musical tribute to her was an extremely moving event that helped to spread much needed knowledge about her, and why she did not seem to gain the commercial success wanted. Though she did get record contract offers she would turn down most because they did not give her enough control. Her open sexual attitude was very controversial for the time for a black woman in the music industry. Some of her shows were boycotted and her songs not played on the radio due to pressure from religious groups. One album she was putting together in which Miles was helping with, he decided to shelve it, a serious set-back for her. 

Betty Mabry Davis remains a prolific figure who helped to influence a major era in music, and at the the same time a tragic figure who society was not fully ready for. She has become in fact the stuff of legends, a woman like many others, head of her time. Nucomme & The Curators musical tribute was great in bring this across.


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