Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Davis, Katherine (Helene)
Davis, Katherine (Helene), singer, actress, songwriter; b. Chicago, IL, 25 February 1953. Her parents were Ethel Campbell (born 1925 in Morgan Park, IL, (d. 1991) and Wesley Davis (born 1915 Hattiesburg, MS, d. 1982). She has three brothers and two sisters: Wesley Davis, Jr. b.1954, Raymond Davis b. 1957, Milford Davis b. 1962, Nancy (nee Davis) Evans b. 1959, and Shenell Davis b. 1964. Her mother was from a family of jazz performers and opera singers. She loved to sing, and wanted to be a professional vocalist. Her grandfather, Earl Campbell, performed with Louis Armstrong and Count Basie. She has four daughters: Lavenia Marquette Davis b. 1969, Katisha Michelle Davis b. 1971, Quiana Marshae Bradley b. 1978, and Katherine Helene Bradley b. 1979. She is married to Dr. Caleb Dube.
Davis studied opera at the Sherwood Conservatory of Music in Chicago, IL, under the direction of Maria D' Albert in 1982-1985; gospel chorale under Reuben Lightfoot, Chicago, IL, in 1983; theater under Val Gray Ward of Kuumba Theater in 1982-1985; and music theory and theater at Kennedy King College in Chicago, IL, 1985-1986.
Singer, songwriter, actress, and teacher, her life is imbued with music. Whether she is portraying Bessie Smith or Ma Rainey on stage, appearing with piano accompaniment at a nightclub, fronting a large band, or singing for the Lord, Katherine steers her own course. Her command of various musical styles is saturated in blue. Katherine's unique musical approach was nurtured within her circle of family and close friends. Katherine's father's side of the family gave house parties all the time. The only live entertainment would be the children. If a child sang or danced, family and friends would throw money at her or his feet. She was raised on the music of Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey, Nancy Wilson, Dinah Washington, Brook Benton, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Mahalia Jackson, Etta James, and Aretha Franklin. The music was enticing, and the glamour of the female performers was fascinating to Katherine. She decided at a young age that she wanted to combine her talent for singing, with the glittering world of show business.
Although she could get down and dirty with the best of them (at age 13, she was chastised by her church choir director for sounding too "bluesy", and asked to lower her voice), Katherine was also inspired by her exposure to the opera singers in her family. She studied opera at the Sherwood Conservatory of Music, under the direction of Maria D' Albert. In studying opera, Katherine was laying the groundwork for the diversity that would come to make up her all-encompassing musical style.
Raised in Chicago's infamous Cabrini-Green housing project on Chicago's north side, Katherine and her family moved to the south side in 1967. The move proved a good one for Katherine, as it provided exposure to the jazz and blues clubs. Within the jazz scene, there was a subscene, where singers and musicians would perform for stage productions. A friend suggested that she audition for an acting part in a play produced by Kuumba Theatre, and Katherine got the part. She went on to play Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith to critical acclaim, in Kuumba Theatre's production of "In the Heart of the Blues". Acting at Kuumba helped launch Katherine's professional career. She made a number of valuable contacts and was soon singing in both jazz and blues clubs, festivals and concerts throughout the U.S., Canada, Japan, Europe, the Caribbean and Venezuela. Her appearance with the Blues in the Schools children at the 1997 Chicago Blues Festival, led to an ongoing involvement as an instructor in the valuable "Blues in the Schools" program, alongside harmonica man Billy Branch.
The title of her CD Dream Shoes, was inspired by Katherine's mother, and the CD is dedicated to her. Katherine "walks in her mother's dream shoes." Ethel, her mother, always talked about being a traveling professional singer. She didn't realize that her daughter was dreaming just like her mother. John Barrett of Jazz USA wrote of the CD: "While apparently simple, this album speaks volumes - that's true of the best music, and the best dreams." Noted Chicago Tribune critic Dan Kening, also had good things to say. "If there's any justice in this world, the delicious melange of vintage blues and jazz on Dream Shoes will raise the profile of veteran Chicago singer Katherine Davis as a recording artist."
Katherine continues to perform at clubs and concert venues at home in Chicago, and around the world. In January, she was chosen to accompany Mayor Richard J. Daley, to help represent the city of Chicago at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. She performed there at the diplomatic reception. She has regular weekly gigs in Chicago at Joe's Be-Bop Cafe, located on Navy Pier, and Voltaire, a trendy restaurant in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. In the late 1980s her visage was immortalized on a 16-foot tall billboard that adorns the corner of Ohio and Orleans, advertising the renowned nightclub Blue Chicago.
Davis performs as a vocalist mainly in Chicago, IL, notably at the following jazz clubs: Andy's, Joe's Be-Bop Cafe and the Green Dolphin Street. Previously she toured colleges throughout the US; and she also teaches blues and jazz in the schools nationally. She has toured Europe, Canada (Montreal Jazz Festival), Japan and South America. In 2000 she performed at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, representing the City of Chicago.
The Chicago Victory Gospelaires Vol. 1 (1989); Live at The Orpheum Theatre (1993); Dream Shoes (1999)
Chicago Blues Night Compilation, Japan (1992); Louisiana Red featuring the Chicago All Stars: Ashland Avenue Blues (1992); Roy Rubenstein and Dixie Stompers: Ain't Gonna Tell Nobody 'Bout the Dixie Stompers (1993); Chicago All Stars: When I Lost My Baby (1993); Mississippi Heat: Handyman (1999)
Artbeat Chicago, Channel 11: WTTW Chicago, May 27, 1998;
WGN, Channel 9, Summer 2000;
Channel 7, 2000, "Someone You Should Know";
KALA 88.5, St. Ambrose University, Davenport, IA, September 2001;
Films And Documentaries:
Speaking of the Blues, Chicago Public Library, 1994, 2002;
Music in Chicago: An Aural History 1900-1999, The Katherine Davis Quintet,
October 3, 2000;
Psychic Crime Busters
Since 1984 about 6 original songs
1985-2002: about 40 hours of Chicago Blues and Jazz Festival live performance audio recordings
1982-2002: over 30 hours of live show audio recordings
2001: 2 hours of biographical video footage
1999-2002: over 50 hours of arts education workshop performances in schools, Chicago
1998 Lecture/Performance, "Blues Musicians as Poets and Historians," School for New Learning, DePaul University, Chicago, IL
The Sullivan Award, Best Female Vocalist, 1957
The Fashion Connection, Inc. (Chicago, IL) Distinguished Service Award, 2002
NACA, Best Female Performer
City of Chicago, Department of Cultural Affairs: Community Arts Assistance Program grant: 1998, 1999, 2000; Neighborhood Arts Program grant: 1999, 2000.
Magazine And Newspaper Articles:
Lerner News.Star, Chicago, IL, May 29, 2002, "Blues Heals the Listener"
Big City Blues, Detroit, MI, Feb.-March 2001, "Katherine Davis: A Woman's experience in the blues"
Blues News, Davenport, IA, November 2001, "Katherine Davis Residency a Big Hit"
Blues News, Davenport, IA, September 2001, "Davis Scheduled for Residency"
BluesLetter, Charleston, SC, March 1994, "Katherine Davis"
Chicago Tribune, Chicago, IL, December 14, 1984
Book Chapters And Dissertations:
1989 I Was There When the Blues Was Red Hot: A Tribute to a Chicago
Blues family. Chicago: The Fernando Jones Publishing Group, Ltd.
2001 Between Starvation and Stardom: Chicago Blues Musicians as Cultural Workers. Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL
Marquis Who's Who in America, 2003, Biographical sketch
search.centerstage.net/music/ whoswho/KatherineDavis.html - 20k
www.nush.org/VittumTheater/KatherineDavis.htm - 5k
www.allaboutjazz.com/reviews/r0200_027.htm - 19k