News of her death was confirmed on her website by her friend Constance Portis.
Tributes have been paid to Davis by stars such as American rocker Lenny Kravitz and Prince’s estate, which has written about his influence on him.
Prince’s estate noted how the late star once referred to Davis’ work in an interview, saying “that’s what we’re aiming for”.
Born and raised as Betty Mabry in North Carolina, Davis became a mainstay of the 1960s New York music scene, with songs like Get Ready for Betty. Her 1967 song Uptown (to Harlem), which she wrote for the Chambers Brothers, recently reappeared in Questlove’s Oscar-nominated documentary, Summer of Soul.
“I wrote about love, really, and on all levels of love,” she told The New York Times in 2018, in a rare interview after the release of the documentary Betty — They Say I’m Different. “When I was writing about it, no one was writing about it. But now everyone is writing about it. It’s like a cliché.”
She has influenced artists such as Prince, Madonna, Janelle Monae and Erykah Badu
She was the second wife of jazz star Miles Davis, and although they were only married for a year, she is widely credited with helping the trumpeter and bandleader turn to the rock music of the day, introducing him to artists like Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. His later jazz-rock fusion phase brought the classic album Bitches Brew.
“Every day I was married to him was a day I earned the Davis name,” she said in the documentary about their eventful time together.
The recordings they made together were shelved after their separation, but she finally released her self-titled debut album in 1973.
Betty Davis was one of the first black women to be recognised for writing, arranging and producing her own albums, such as They Say I’m Different and Nasty Gal. But she disappeared from the music industry in the late 1970s.
Although her music was not commercially successful, it proved influential for generations to come.
Janelle Monae has previously described Davis as “one of the godmothers of redefining how black women in music can be perceived”, while Erykah Badu once commented, “We are but grains of sand in her Bettyness.”
“Multi-talented musical influencer“
Male rappers, including Ice Cube and Talib Kweli, have also sampled his work.
After a brief stay with silent monks in Japan, she returned to the Pittsboro, North Carolina area and stayed away for most of her life. “When I was told it was over, I just accepted it,” Davis told the New York Times. “And no one else was knocking on my door.”
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