Link to the University of Pittsburgh Homepage
Link to the University Library System Homepage Link to the Contact Us Form

"Sound Projector": Reissuing, Representing, and Reclaiming the Music of Betty Davis

Maggio, Danielle (2021) "Sound Projector": Reissuing, Representing, and Reclaiming the Music of Betty Davis. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

Download (6MB) | Preview


In 2007, the music of Betty Davis was reissued on Light In The Attic Records to a wave of critical acclaim. The reemergence of Betty’s first two studio albums (Betty Davis 1973; They Say I’m Different 1974) cemented the pioneer status of the singer, songwriter, and producer who was once ridiculed and boycotted for her sexually dominant lyrics and physically suggestive live performances. Due to marked shifts in Black expressive culture, mainstream feminism, and the socio-political context within the music industry, Betty Davis is now celebrated as an artistic innovator and progressive social figure whose musical ideas and aesthetics resonate loudly in mainstream popular music. This study offers a dialectical analysis between the cultural and industrial forces that largely suppressed Davis during her heyday (1968-1979) and the curatorial and performance practices that attempt to re-package Davis in the present day. This study identifies two different interpretive communities that are crucial to Davis’ reemergence: the relatively cloistered community of record collecting, and the dynamic alliance of Black Women Rock. Furthermore, this study examines the 2017 documentary film Betty – They Say I’m Different in which I was partly involved, and the live pre- and post-film events that I helped to organize. Finally, this study turns toward participatory observation and documents my subjective experience making music with Betty Davis. Through a combination of historical analysis and four years of ethnographic research conducted with Davis, this study analyzes Davis’ life in music in order to interrogate the cultural work of reissuing, representing, and reclaiming a previously marginalized artist for modern day consumption. By analyzing the pleasure-centered poetics of artistic power that Davis projected through an embrace of the erotic, this study locates the music of Betty Davis as a dynamic site of Black women’s intellectual production, in the same tradition as the classic blues women. Thus, through a comparative analysis of reissued records, documentary film, and Black feminist performance, this study claims that Betty Davis’ career provides a framework through which different interpretive communities can access the past and, in the process, create newly informed meaning and value in the present.


Social Networking:
Share |


Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Maggio, Danielledam217@pitt.edudam217
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairWeintraub, Andrewawein@pitt.eduawein
Committee MemberAyyagari, Shalinisayyagari@pitt.edusayyagari
Committee MemberJohnson, Aarondraj@pitt.edudraj
Committee MemberShonekan,
Date: 20 January 2021
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 23 November 2020
Approval Date: 20 January 2021
Submission Date: 7 December 2020
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 384
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Music
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Betty Davis, blues women, Black feminism, funk, erotic, reissue, record collecting, documentary film, Black Women Rock, Light In The Attic Records
Date Deposited: 20 Jan 2021 18:56
Last Modified: 20 Jan 2021 18:56


Monthly Views for the past 3 years

Plum Analytics

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item