In celebration of Women’s History Month, poet jessica Care moore pays tribute to funk pioneer Betty Davis.
Born Betty Mabry (her last name comes from a brief marriage to Miles Davis), Davis was way ahead of her time—a funk goddess who wasn’t afraid of her own power and sexuality. Her edgy costumes and sexy onstage persona inspired the work of the likes of Prince and Madonna. She released three seminal rock-and-funk-inspired albums in the mid-‘70s before retiring from the industry.
They Say She’s Different
birth is a sound. she was born Mabry. Carolina farm girl.
steel lungs, quietly adjusting into Pittsburgh legs,
long as freight trains. eventually carrying us to
an unrecognizable place. unfiltered feminine funk don’t
can’t just quiet down a train moving at full speed.
not wearing those feathers & history and wild rebellion
as leather neck tie. loosen up miles. betty
is in the building. inside your covers. on the notes,
brewing extraordinary fuses between
muddy waters bb king big mama thorton, lightnin’ hopkins
conjuring jazz & electric high powered anthems
she wailed. moved. took them for an afrofuturistic ride.
Betty found herself inside a movement
that did not include self defined, self empowered
sexually confident women, especially beautiful
How high was that Egyptian leg kick, that pushed you into
american music non history?
How do you measure the time it takes to suspend your leg
minus the minds you blow when you finally decide to place
it back on the ground and howl inside the mic.
why do women, ordained as goddess, legend,
get swallowed whole by the fear of industry.
we just the blues, sped up
who can hold a note while singing bout chitlins, beat
him with a turquoise chain, celebrate the sharing of lovers
from San francisco to Detroit & shout out
john lee hooker as necessary blues in one heavy breath.
veins deep as spirituals. betty told our collective story,
straight. without fear, no chaser.
this wide hipped music is spit out of a defiant flame
a hungry gut of midwest grit, of heart and
longing for truth.
authenticity was not sexy in the 70’s if you
were a tall nubian killer of beauty, Funktified fro as crown
growl of language, mask for no one. spun records & men
on her fingers.
sangin’ anti-love songs.
jazz muse. miles could not hold you the way
he played that horn. you unloosened the tie.
made them beg. moved their minds
into uncomfortable places.
muses ain’t for idle worship, you know?
you refused to tone it down for them.
you. daughter of Kilimanjaro
never turned your black scream into a purr
or bowed down to the phallic worship
hendrix and sly knew. you.
we just the blues sped up.
your music born free, inside a place some women
pretend not to recognize. you controlled stages
they wish they had the courage to touch.
hands & time
failing to grasp the weight
of your young genius.
your before your timeless/ness
that doesn’t pay the bills, but leaves them guessing.
how did she do it? how did she survive?
outwit a young rock & roll death
choosing life, being fully awake
can be lonely
how do we breath, still?
your metaphorical daughters
they will forever wonder
this alien place that works to silence black women’s
voices their entires lives, then labels us “crazy” when
we finally decide
to stop talking to them. refuse interviews or access
to our souls.
How did you balance being from
the future in the past? to be the queen of funk. a black
rock in a land of pebbles. being black genius
& sexy was so confusing for the often low vibration
of this planet.
the industry was not ready
& still has not recovered from the powerful likes of you.
Where are all your image awards
Your rebellion statues in your honor
They love looking at us, once we’d turned to stone.
You forever our black rock.
Jazz’s conduit into the hereafter
in this place that kills kings
& destroys the magic of women
you continue to live on.
*This poem was written the same day I received a beautiful card in the mail from Betty Davis, with the handwritten note ” Dear Jessica, Thank you for keeping my music alive. Best Wishes and Love, Betty Davis.”
jessica Care moore’s 2016 Black Women Rock show in Detroit this Saturday, March 5th, will be a tribute to Betty Davis.