Q&A with multi-talented singer Thornetta Davis - spiritual journey with the Queen of the Blues in Motor City

"Blues and Soul music was created from oppression and pain and the people who created it, sang it to relieve the feels that they were having because there was no other relief. Those who love Blues & Soul music listen to it and come together no matter what their belief, race or background."

Thornetta Davis:

Detroit’s Queen of the Blues

Crowned “Detroit’s Queen of the Blues” in 2015, Thornetta Davis a multi-talented International Singer and Songwriter is the Winner of over 30 Detroit Music Awards. Thornetta has been exciting and wowing audiences all over the world. Her voice is strong, commanding, melodic and smooth. She tells her stories with incredible delivery and leaves her audiences wanting more. Backed by her great band of Detroit Musicians. She first gained attention in 1987 when she became back up singer for the Detroit soul band “Lamont Zodiac & The Love Signs”. Shortly after, the lead singer left the band and the name changed to “The Chisel Brothers featuring Thornetta Davis”. In 1996 Thornetta recorded her first solo album “Sunday Morning Music” on Sub Pop. Her song “Cry” was featured on the HBO hit “The Sopranos”. Thornetta has opened for legendary blues and R&B greats such as Ray Charles, Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson, Etta James, Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor, Junior Wells, Lonnie Brooks, Johnnie Johnson and many more…her history is extensive and her performances are memorable like the time she opened for Bonnie Raitt at Michigan’s Ann Arbor Festival in 1992. Bonnie asked Thornetta to join her and Katie Webster for an encore song which received a standing ovation.

In 1999 Thornetta brought down the house with her astounding performance at the “Lillith Fair” at Michigan’s Pine Knob Music Theatre hosted by Sarah Mclachlan that same evening she attended the “Detroit Music Awards” where she proudly accepted 2 of the over 30 Music Awards that she has won over the last 20 years for “Best R&B/Blues vocalist” and “Best R&B Group”. New York’s star-studded event captured Detroit’s “Princess of the Blues” in all her glory!
 In 2001 Thornetta is inducted into the Detroit Music Hall of Fame! Thornetta performed on Wednesday nights for 7 years at one of Detroit’s favorite live music venues “The Music Menu” located in Greektown in downtown Detroit. Three years before that final Wednesday, Thornetta recorded a live performance on one magical night at the “Menu” and called it “Thornetta Davis covered Live at the Music Menu”. This CD is a collection of Thornetta’s most requested cover tunes. The magic comes through and touches you and makes you feel like you’re right there watching her as she takes you on a spiritual journey to the depths of her soul. “Thornetta Davis covered Live at the Music Menu” won “Best R&B/Blues Recording” at the Detroit Music Awards 2002. Thornetta has electrified audiences worldwide with tours to Tunisia, Europe, and Canada. Thornetta Davis' new album entitled; Honest Woman (2016) was amazingly HOT!

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues & Soul culture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Music has always been a healing force to me. Performing music has always been a way for me to connect with people of all colors and backgrounds. People of the world have always been involved in some form of conflict over race, religion, politics and sex. Music has always been the common ground that brings people together. Blues and Soul music was created from oppression and pain and the people who created it, sang it to relieve the feels that they were having because there was no other relief. Those who love Blues & Soul music listen to it and come together no matter what their belief, race or background. I believe in that moment a healing is going on.

How do you describe Thornetta Davis sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I’m a Detroit Girl, Born and raised. My music influences were Motown music, R&B, Soul, Funk, Jazz, Gospel, Blues, and Detroit Rock in that order. I call what I do “Detroit Funky Rockin’ Blues” As a child listen to The Supremes, Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder and The Temptations. As a teen, Detroit Radio was were I got my love for R&B, Soul, Funk and Jazz. Listening to Gladys Knight and the Pips, and Earth Wind and Fire, The Emotions and local groups like The Jones Girls and The Dramatics. When I started singing in high school my major influences where Phyllis Hyman and Angela Bofil. Then as an adult I starting singing Whitney Houston, Pointer Sisters in different groups. I started singing the Blues when I met a group of white boys Called the Chisel Brothers and they told me they don’t do “Top 40” R&B they performed Soul and Blues music and wanted me to join their band and at that time I was a top 40 singer. So I went to my mother’s record collection and learned some of my 1st blues and soul tunes. I starting Loving what I was singing and felt more connecting to the music and realized that it made me a better performer. I felt connected to my roots and the audience response was great and now 30 years later I’m Detroit’s Queen Of the Blues. Who New?

"Music has always been a healing force to me. Performing music has always been a way for me to connect with people of all colors and backgrounds. People of the world have always been involved in some form of conflict over race, religion, politics and sex." (Photo by Jeff Dunn)

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I have been Blessed to have been friends with some of Detroit’s great Blues singers The original Queen of Detroit Blues Ms Alberta Adams, Johnnie Bassett and Joe Weaver. I use tour with them and share the stage with them and I got to perform in Europe with them at the end of there lives. It was a blessing to be with them and witness how they loved performing even in their later years. I also performed at a tribute to KoKo Taylor in Detroit and she told me that she really loved my show and That I should “Keep on doing what I’m doing”.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

The first time I open for Bonnie Raitt she came to my dressing room and asked me to sing with her during her last song. I can’t remember the name of the song but I know it was a blues shuffle. Bonnie was one of my influences and I use to listed to her album “Nick of Time” all the time. I was inspired by her because she didn’t really get her major success until after 40, so that just let me know to Keep on doing what you love to do and you will succeed.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I can’t really say that I miss the blues of the past. Blues of the past for me meant oppression as a Black person in the United States. Blues music was originally born from the suffering of my ancestors which lead a lot of my people to want to leave it in the past. When they came up North to live a “Free Life” a lot of them wanted to move on to different things so to forget the suffering and Blues music reminded them of that. Now a days Blues Music has a new meaning and although It has some similarities it is musical notes the lyrics are less about being oppressed. They are more about love lost and found and everybody and can related to that. I do hope that Blues Music will continue to be embraced by everyone but I also hope the as apart of my Heritage it will not be dismissed.

"I want music to Heal hearts and change minds toward Love and Understanding of each other. If this could be a reality then there would be no more Wars, no more Suffering, When I’m singing I hope that I am apart of that Healing." (Photo by Linda Vail)

Make an account of the case of the blues in Detroit. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

I found a quote from All Music that Describes the Detroit Blues Scene. “Detroit blues has historically been overshadowed for two reasons: the wealth of other music for which the city is better known (gospel, jazz, Motown, hard-driving rock & roll), and the much more celebrated scene of its Midwestern neighbor Chicago. Only one performer rose to fame directly through the Detroit blues scene: John Lee Hooker, whose idiosyncratic style was difficult to imitate and thus never became the standard sound of the city. Aside from Hooker, Detroit blues was stylistically very similar to Chicago blues: rooted in the Mississippi Delta, it was the music of Southern blacks who migrated north to work in the auto plants, and began to play familiar music using amplified electric instruments. Like Chicago, the Detroit blues scene hit its creative prime in the late '40s and early '50s, centered around the clubs on Hastings Street and the surrounding Black Bottom neighborhood. Pianist Big Maceo Merriweather went on to greater fame on the Chicago scene, but for the most part, Detroit's finest performers -- including singer Alberta Adams and guitarists/singers Calvin Frazier, Eddie Burns, and Johnnie Bassett -- gained little recognition outside of their hometown, due in part to a relative lack of promotion and recording opportunities. Detroit's blues scene was nearly wiped out by the advent of Motown, but gradually rebuilt itself thanks to promoter and former recording artist Bobo Jenkins; it survives today, still on a mostly local basis.” In their later years I was there when Alberta Adams, Johnnie Bassett and Joe Weaver Recorded their last albums and toured the US, France, Netherlands. The Detroit Blues Scene is still growing as more singers and musicians start to realized the Blues will always stay relevant. If you’re living then you know the Blues. I feel very Blessed to be a Blues singer from Detroit.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues from Funky, Jazz and Soul to Rock, R&B and Gospel?

I’m no expert on how music evolved but I guess Gospel or what was call “Negro Spirituals” came first from the slaves singing in the fields not only to make the time go faster but also to communicate to one another. Then came Blues music is was ok for the oppressed sharecroppers to sing while working because the overseers enjoyed the music. Then the Music Travel to New Orleans and Mixed with whatever was going on there and Jazz was born. The music traveled north and thru out the South and Soul Music and R&B was born. The changing times and people began fighting for equal rights the music became more expressive like James Brown “Say it loud I’m Black and I’m proud” and then the birth of Funk.

What does to be a female artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?

The first Successful Blues recording artist where women. Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, Mamie Smith for example. I think todays Blues has more focus on Blues Rock Guitar and although I love Guitar I don’t play it so in order to keep the Blues lovers happy I have to include some great guitar in my music. Fortunately I love Blues Rock also.

"The Detroit Blues Scene is still growing as more singers and musicians start to realized the Blues will always stay relevant. If you’re living then you know the Blues. I feel very Blessed to be a Blues singer from Detroit."

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I want music to Heal hearts and change minds toward Love and Understanding of each other. If this could be a reality then there would be no more Wars, no more Suffering, When I’m singing I hope that I am apart of that Healing.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

If possible I’d love to take a 24 hour trip stopping at different places all over the world singing my song “I Believe Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” to massive audiences in places like Africa, Australia, Japan, and all of Europe with everybody singing and dancing loving one another.

Thornetta Davis - Official website

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