Some of you experts on new directions in Black music might be familiar with Betty Davis, née Mabry, the second wife of trumpet icon Miles Davis. Regarded largely as the Queen of Funk, Ms. Davis enjoyed a brilliant, genre-defying, standard-setting career and blew out her own flame, seemingly prematurely.
Early in her career, she had an interesting professional interaction with Lester Chambers and his brothers as they recorded their quintessential Summer of Love classic album, The Time Has Come. In his memoir, Time Has Come: Revelations of a Mississippi Hippie. Lester writes:
After the Chambers Brothers signed with Columbia, we started recording The Time Has Come at their New York studio. One day we were getting out of the car and Betty Mabry, whom we had met at The Electric Circus or the Cheetah Club (I can’t remember which), ran up on us talking fast, and said, “I just wrote this song for Lester, cuz I know he can sing it, I know he can sing it. I just wrote it!”
The song was titled Uptown. Then she started singing it, “I’m goin’ uptown to Harlem…”
I thought to myself, ‘This is right on. ‘ So we went upstairs and presented it to David Rubinson. We immediately worked it out, and it became a very well-regarded song…
Lester also made the point in the book that he introduced Miles Davis to Betty Mabry at the very same recording session as Miles was recording in the studio next door. As fate would have it, I caught wind of a documentary in production on the incredible trajectory of Betty Davis’ career. The director was a British filmmaker named Phil Cox. Somehow, we were put in touch, and gradually, I was able to pitch Phil about the possibility of interviewing Betty.
Now Betty had dropped out of sight when she consented to work with Phil Cox on the documentary which is titled, Betty – They Say I’m Different. When the film was wrapped, Phil Cox was looking for venues to screen it in the U.S. When I suggested that I could help him get it screened at San Francisco’s Museum of the African Diaspora, he agreed to ask Betty if I could do a phone interview with her. Now, mind you, Betty had only granted less than a handful of interviews since she dropped off the map in 1980. Somehow, she consented, and I parlayed the phone interview into a print media piece for the San Francisco Chronicle. (See the link at the end of this).
One thing that wasn’t printed in the piece was Betty’s denial of Lester Chambers’ assertion that he introduced her to Miles.
“Oh no, I love Lester, but he’s wrong. I introduced myself to Miles when I went to see him at the Cheetah Club in New York,” is what she told me.
So, my Bloomies, the best way to tell this part of the story is that in their minds, they were both correct about how Miles and Betty met. That’s Thurman’s theory.
Time Has Come: Revelations of a Mississippi of a Mississippi Hippie, by Lester Chambers with T. Watts is available for purchase in Lake County at Watershed Books in Lakeport and at the Lucerne Euro Market and Bistro in Lucerne.
By Thurman Watts