Betty Davis and the black rock freak show

by Jason Gross

17 June 2007

 

A PSF fan who posted to a mailing list recently had a very good point about how Davis and other women artists are trapped by ongoing male stereotypes.  As a reviewer (or liner note writer), you’re obliged or expected to mention background details like, as with 70’s singer Betty Davis (subject of a commendable reissue campaign by Light in the Attic Records), associations with Miles or Jimi but then the question is, how much do you focus on that itself.  For many readers (and potential buyers), the initial hook is the Miles/Jimi connection and once they’ve got your attention, then hopefully the music will speak for itself.  If however, that’s the be-all and end-all, then shame on the scribe for drooling over those details at the expense of Davis’ work.

Another problem for some is that Davis’ work confuses a lot of music fans because she’s going against the grain with her work- a black woman doing a rock/funk/soul album wasn’t common in the early/mid 70’s and isn’t exactly commonplace today. I’m also sure some listeners are attracted to her music because it’s so out-of-the-ordinary and they enjoy the thrill and novelty of witnessing a musical ‘freak show’.  Simply admiring her work for what it is isn’t an easy job for many especially since there’s not much precedent.  Kandia Crazy Horse sums up this problem well in a PSF article from earlier this year.

 

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