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Meet Mademoiselle Mabry

Push play and come back to read the article while you listen to the song:


Hear that? Sounds alot like the opening to Lenny Kravitz’s “Mama Said,” doesn’t it? ( The song is “F.U.N.K.” by one of music’s  greatest Divas.

Betty Mabry was twelve when she began writing songs on her grandmother’s North Carolina farm and four years later, in 1961, she moved from her parents home in Pittsburg to New York City where she became a successful model. At eighteen she opened her own club, Cellar, and mingled with top musicians, including Sly Stone, The Commodores and Jimi Hendrix. You can hear their influence in this song as she names more of the artists who influenced her music…Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner (you can hear her influence in Betty’s intense vocals), and the list goes on.

However, it’s more interesting, I think, to pay attention to the musicians she influenced, most notably the great Jazz trumpeter, Miles Davis.

Betty Mabry became Betty Davis in 1968 when she married Miles Davis. They divorced a year later, due in part to Miles’s assessment that she was ‘too young and wild’ for him, but her influence during that one year is credited as being a catalyst for his transformation from the ‘cool’ style of Jazz to a new sound called Jazz Fusion. Introductions by Betty to the innovative musicians of the mid and late 60s, like Hendrix, opened up new styistic ideas for Davis and kept him relevant in an age when music was moving away from the traditional genres. If you listen to his pre-Betty sound in “So What” ( and compare it to his post-Betty sound in “Bitches Brew” ( you can easily hear the change from the smokey lounge sound of the 40s and 50s to the more forceful, experimental, emotional sound of the 60s where he combined his explosive trumpting with electrical instruments.

Betty Davis’ influence didn’t stop with Miles Davis. After their divorce she went to Los Angeles to work on her own albums and with Santana, among many other great musicians. Eric Clapton pursued her for a time, wanting to co-produce one of her albums, and in 1975, two years after the release of her third album, Nasty Gal, Clapton released a song on his Slow Hand album called “The Core” with a riff that sounds very similar to the one in “F.U.N.K.”  (

The funk inspired fashions she wore can be seen in David Bowie’s futuristic, glam rock style and on the album covers of current hip hop divas like Lil’ Kim, Beyonce, and Rihana, and, in Miles’s opinion, her ‘in your face’ sexuality was picked up by Prince and Madonna in the 1980s.

As for Lenny…his father, a jazz promoter and associate of Miles Davis, introduced the future rock star to Betty Davis at a very young age and I can only imagine what effect this wild funk diva had on a boy who was just coming into his teens. Recently he performed a cover of Betty’s “Anti-Love Song” with a London band called Skunk Anansie on a French television show so it’s assured that Betty Davis’s influence is still groovin’ at the clubs.

Can ya’ dig it?

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