In Memoriam: Richard Davis

Richard Davis

It’s a sad day in the world as bass legend and racial justice activist Richard Davis has passed away. He was 93 years old. The news was confirmed by his daughter, Persia Davis.

“We Appreciate all the love and support the community has shown him over the years,” she wrote.

Born in Chicago in 1930, Davis grew up in a musical household and started by singing bass in his family’s vocal trio. He played double bass in high school and studied with members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra while at VanderCook College of Music. After working with Don Shirley for some time, he and the pianist moved to New York City in 1954, where Davis soon became a part of vocal great Sarah Vaughan’s band.

Throughout the ’60s, Davis became a staple of the jazz scene, working with everyone from Eric Dolphy to Elvin Jones to Frank Sinatra and Miles Davis. He also began his impressive solo career during the time, beginning with a co-leader album with Elvin Jones, followed by the influential Muses for Richard Davis. He would record a dozen albums as a leader and 3000 recordings and jingles as a sideman, his memorial page states.

The ’70s saw Davis’s musical sphere expand into the pop and rock world. He notably recorded on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, Paul Simon’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, Laura Nyro’s Smile, Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, and more.

After decades as a first-call studio musician, Davis turned his attention to fostering the up-and-coming musicians of the world. He began teaching at the University of Wisconsin in 1977, where he stayed for 40 years.

I got a call offering me a job at the university in Madison because they didn’t have a bass teacher on campus,” Davis said in an interview with On Wisconsin magazine in 1979. “I asked around if anyone had heard of the place because this school kept calling me. Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about the importance of teaching others, and I had always wanted to teach young people. I thought maybe it was time.”

In 1993, he began an annual camp called the Richard Davis Foundation for Young Bassists, which hosted bassists from age 3 to 18.

Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Richard Davis.

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