Remembering Betty Davis, a Futuristic Funk Force

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The three albums Betty Davis released in the 1970s — “Betty Davis” in 1973, “They Say I’m Different” in 1974 and “Nasty Gal” in 1975 — were not huge commercial successes, but they were profoundly advanced statements of funk futurism.

Davis, who died this month at 77, was far ahead of her time, a Black woman exploring the connections between blues vocalizing and funk rhythms making music that only would begin to have company a few years — or really, a decade or two — later. She had been married to Miles Davis, and pushed him toward the psychedelia that he explored on “Bitches Brew” and beyond. And her inheritors range from Rick James and Prince to Joi and Janelle Monáe.

On this week’s Popcast, a conversation about Davis’s unique music, the forces that conspired to make her career a short one and the path that led to her rediscovery.

Guests:

  • Jon Pareles, The New York Times’s chief pop music critic

  • Maureen Mahon, associate professor in NYU’s department of music and the author of “Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll”

  • Oliver Wang, professor of sociology at California State University, Long Beach, and the author of the liner notes on the late 2000s reissues of Betty Davis’s first three albums

Connect With Popcast. Become a part of the Popcast community: Join the show’s Facebook group and Discord channel. We want to hear from you! Tune in, and tell us what you think at [email protected] Follow our host, Jon Caramanica, on Twitter: @joncaramanica.

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