Kay Davis (5 December 1920 – 27 January 2012) was a classically trained coloratura soprano who majored in voice and piano at Northwestern University in Illinois, USA, one of only six African American students there at the time. She joined Duke Ellington’s orchestra as a vocalist in 1944 and appeared with them in a number of (short) films, amongst which Symphony in Swing (1949) and Salute to Duke Ellington (1950).
During a concert in Carnegie Hall on November 13, 1948, Kay Davis was the first person ever to sing, for an audience, the legendary melancholy jazz ballad Lush Life, though the song had already been written more than a decade earlier by Ellington’s musical arranger and pianist Billy Strayhorn when he was only 16 years old.
Although she did sing conventional jazz songs with lyrics in a non-operatic style, she’s best known for weaving haunting wordless soprano tones through elaborate, sometimes filmlike Ellington arrangements. Jazz scholar Richard A. Wang, associate professor emeritus of music at the University of Illinois in Chicago, said of Ms. Davis’ singing: “She had a purity of tone and accuracy of intonation that added another instrumental voice to the Ellington palette. If one made a classical reference, it would be the sounds in Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise – also a wordless vocal.”
In the early 1950s, after two European tours with Ellington, Davis got married and retired from singing. She and her husband moved to Florida, where she became a trained Cordon Bleu cook and had one son. Kay Davis’ best known recordings with Duke Ellington are the wordless vocal numbers Transblucency, On A Turquoise Cloud, Minnehaha, and Violet Blue.
Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston attend the United Negro College Fund’s 46th Annual Awards Dinner on March 8, 1990 in New York.
Whitney Houston was presented with the UNCF’s Frederick D. Patterson Award for her support of black colleges. She raised a quarter of a million dollars at a benefit concert for the UNCF and had participated in many UNCF programs.
Singer Andrea Davis (Minnie Riperton) publicity portraits for
Chess Records, 1967.
Minnie Riperton possessed a five-octave vocal range, enabling her to sing in whistle register, famously demonstrated on her 1975 hit single “Lovin’ You”. Born in Chicago, she received operatic vocal training from Marion Jeffery. Under the alias Andrea Davis she recorded
local hit “Lonely Girl” in 1966. Before embarking on a solo career, she joined the group Rotary Connection.
In 1973, she began working with Wonderlove, Stevie Wonder’s backing group.
A year later he producing her Perfect Angel album, and contributed two original compositions. “Loving You”, written by Minnie and her husband Richard Rudolph, brought her international success, reaching the U.S. #1 spot and the U.K. #2 chart position in 1975.
In January 1976, Minnie was diagnosed with breast cancer
and underwent a mastectomy. The next year she became chairman of the American Cancer Society. In 1978, she received the American Cancer Society’s Courage Award presented to her at the White House by President Jimmy Carter.
continued to perform and record until she was
bed confined. She died from cancer on July 12, 1979 at the age of 31. Her daughter is actress Maya Rudolph.