Once upon a time there was this force of nature. Her name was Betty. Now you might be thinking of that other force of nature also named Bette but I’m not referring to actress Bette Davis. This memory is about muse/musician/performer Betty Davis.
I was in the bookstore looking for a magazine fix or balm to a hectic week. I turn and see this face on the cover. I say to myself, “Wait a minute. It couldn’t be, not after thirty years?
Wax Poetics had a great article on Ready Betty Davis. That is how the DJ’s referred to her. But in the middle 1970s no one was quite ready for her. I don’t want to repeat the article. (Great magazine) I just wanted to add my reflections into the memory pool.
Just after Sly and the Family Stone but just before the first incarnation of Parliament/Funkadelic, Betty set up the transition zone. A section of black music was lifting up from the rhythm blues and soul foundations into the funkesphere. She was the first wave.
On the bus there are guys with 9-volt transistor radios cranking up the sound, listening for the secret code to unlock the mystery.
Going to the corner store there are guys sitting on the porch fiddling with the knobs on the radio trying to tune in to get the message. They spent time conferring in conferences on the meaning of the song.
Player magazine had yet to emerge as an information source for young black men to get their sexual skivvy. They only had the bikini pages of Jet, as far as I knew.
I make pilgrimage to the record shop and take a look at the album cover. She is everything that I have not big afro, rail thin and really long legs. Just like Tamara Dobson and Pam Grier. I was short and constantly being told I was too fat but at fourteen/fifteen I wasn’t ready to concede that I couldn’t be that tall.
I flip on WDAS-FM and I hear this voice growl out “He was a big freak, I used to beat him with a turquoise chain.”
I didn’t have a clue as to what she was singing about, that didn’t matter. It was that she seemed to be her own person. Betty owned herself and her sexuality. That is not something I could articulate at the time but she planted seeds of action and a different kind of control. One that caused the other person to beg.
There is my mythology of who I think she was as a performer and the truth. I'll never know the complete truth. I've never seen her perform and I doubt there is video. But for a moment there was a woman who acted on her belief that she was important and you need to listen to her. She made it possible for unapologetic sexual expression by music and images.
The Pussycat Dolls? Heck, they walk down her street that she paved.
Tribute video with her music: Nasty Girl - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDvvQq4leoo