Pioneering funk singer whose uncompromising stance resonated with a new generation of musicians
When the singer Betty Davis marched on to the stage at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London in 1975, she was in her underwear – the sort that might have come from an S&M boutique elsewhere in Soho. At that time and in that place, she was enough to scare the living daylights out of her audience. And that was before the tall, slender woman with the giant afro started contorting her body as she delivered songs whose lyrics headed straight through the parental-guidance zone and out the other side, backed by stripped-down funk from her adept band.
She was certainly ahead of her time. Later in the decade, the ripped fishnets of London’s punkettes and the gender-fluid styling of Prince would bring such gestures into the mainstream of pop. The uncompromising stance would take more time to filter through, resonating at deeper levels in the work of black female artists such as Erykah Badu, Macy Gray, Missy Elliott and Janelle Monáe, to whom she represented a pioneer and exemplar.
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