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Reverend Gary Davis, also Blind Gary Davis (born Gary D. Davis, April 30, 1896 – May 5, 1972), was a
blues Blues is a music genre A music genre is a conventional category that identifies some pieces of music as belonging to a shared tradition or set of conventions. It is to be distinguished from ''musical form'' and musical style, although in ...

blues
and
gospel Gospel originally meant the Christian message ("the gospel#REDIRECT The gospel In Christianity Christianity is an Abrahamic religions, Abrahamic Monotheism, monotheistic religion based on the Life of Jesus in the New Testament, life and Te ...
singer who was also proficient on the
banjo The banjo is a stringed instrument with a thin membrane stretched over a frame or cavity to form a resonator. The membrane is typically circular, and usually made of plastic, or occasionally animal skin. Early forms of the instrument were fashio ...

banjo
,
guitar The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that typically has six string instrument, strings. It is held flat against the player's body and played by strumming or Plucked string instrument, plucking the strings with the dominant hand, while sim ...

guitar
and
harmonica The harmonica, also known as a French harp or mouth organ A mouth organ is any free reed aerophone A free reed aerophone is a musical instrument that produces sound as air flows past a vibrating reed (instrument), reed in a frame. Air press ...

harmonica
. Born in
Laurens, South Carolina Laurens is a city in Laurens County, South Carolina South Carolina () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State ...
and blind since infancy, Davis first performed professionally in the
Piedmont blues Piedmont blues (also known as East Coast, or Southeastern blues) refers primarily to a guitar style, which is characterized by a fingerpicking approach in which a regular, alternating thumb bass Bass or Basses may refer to: Fish * Bass (fish) ...
scene of
Durham, North Carolina Durham ( ) is a city A city is a large .Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. London: Penguin.Kuper, A. and Kuper, J., eds (1996) ''The Social Science Encyclopedia''. 2nd edition. London: Routledge. It can be defi ...
in the 1930s, before converting to Christianity and becoming a minister. After relocating to New York in the 1940s, Davis experienced a career rebirth as part of the
American folk music revival The American folk music revival began during the 1940s and peaked in popularity in the mid-1960s. Its roots went earlier, and performers like Josh White, Burl Ives, Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Big Bill Broonzy, Billie Holiday, Richard Dyer-Benn ...
that peaked during the 1960s. Davis' most notable recordings include " Samson and Delilah" and "
Death Don't Have No Mercy "Death Don't Have No Mercy" is a song by the American gospel blues singer-guitarist Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Gary Davis. It was first recorded on August 24, 1960, for the album ''Harlem Street Singer'' (1960), released by Prestige Records' Blues ...
". Davis'
fingerpicking Fingerstyle guitar is the technique of playing the guitar or bass guitar The bass guitar, electric bass or simply bass, is the lowest-pitched member of the family. It is a similar in appearance and construction to an or an , but with ...
guitar style influenced many other artists. His students included
Stefan Grossman Stefan Grossman (born April 16, 1945) is an American acoustic fingerstyle guitarist and singer, music producer and educator, and co-founder of Kicking Mule records. He is known for his instructional videos and Vestapol line of videos and DVDs. E ...
,
David Bromberg David Bromberg (born September 19, 1945) is an American multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter.
David Bromberg biography David (; ) (traditional spelling), , ''Dāwūd''; grc-koi, Δαυΐδ, Dauíd; la, Davidus, David; gez , ዳዊት, ''Dawit''; xcl, Դաւիթ, ''Dawitʿ''; cu, Давíдъ, ''Davidŭ''; possibly meaning "beloved one". is described in th ...
at Billboard (magazine), Billboard.com An eclectic artist, Bromberg plays bluegrass music, bluegrass, blues, Americ ...
, Steve Katz,
Roy Book Binder Roy Book Binder (born October 5, 1943 as Paul Roy Bookbinder) is an American blues guitarist, singer-songwriter and storyteller. A student and friend of the Rev. Gary Davis, he is equally at home with blues and ragtime. He is known to shift from ...
, Larry Johnson,
Nick Katzman Nick Katzman (born 1951) is an United States, American blues musician. Katzman was born in New York City, and lives in both Manhattan and Berlin, Germany. He plays in a variety of musical genres, including Chicago blues, Mississippi blues, Texas ...
,
Dave Van Ronk David Kenneth Ritz Van Ronk (June 30, 1936 – February 10, 2002) was an American folk singer Folk music includes traditional folk music and the genre that evolved from it during the 20th-century folk revival. Some types of folk music ma ...

Dave Van Ronk
,
Rory Block Aurora "Rory" Block (born November 6, 1949, in Princeton Princeton University is a private Private or privates may refer to: Music * "In Private "In Private" was the third single in a row to be a charting success for United Kingdom, Briti ...
,
Ernie Hawkins Ernie Hawkins (born Ernest Leroy Hawkins, 1947, Pittsburgh Pittsburgh ( ) is a city in the state of Pennsylvania in the United States and the county seat of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Allegheny County. An estimated population of about ...
,
Larry Campbell Larry W. Campbell (born 28 February 1948) was the 37th mayor of Vancouver, Canada from 2002 until 2005 and since 2005 has been a member of the Senate of Canada. Before he was mayor, Campbell worked for the RCMP as a police officer, and in 1 ...
,
Bob Weir Robert Hall Weir ( ; né Parber, born October 16, 1947) is an American musician and songwriter best known as a founding member of the rock Rock most often refers to: * Rock (geology) A rock is any naturally occurring solid mass or aggre ...

Bob Weir
,
Woody Mann Woody Mann is an American blues guitarist. Biography He was born in New York, where he studied acoustic guitar with blues guitarist Reverend Gary Davis Reverend Gary Davis, also Blind Gary Davis (born Gary D. Davis, April 30, 1896 – May 5, 197 ...
, and
Tom Winslow Thomas Griffin Winslow (November 13, 1940, Hobgood, North Carolina – October 23, 2010, Albany, New York)Tom Keyser, "Tom Winslow, folk and country-blues musician, dies at 69", ''Albany Times Union'', November 13, 2010. Found aTimes Union webs ...

Tom Winslow
. He also influenced
Bob Dylan Bob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman; May 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter, author and visual artist. Often regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of all time, Dylan has been a major figure in for more than 50 years. Much of ...

Bob Dylan
, the
Grateful Dead The Grateful Dead was an American rock music, rock band formed in 1965 in Palo Alto, California. The band is known for its eclectic style, which fused elements of rock, Folk music, folk, country music, country, jazz, bluegrass music, bluegrass, ...
,
Wizz Jones Raymond Ronald Jones (born 25 April 1939), better-known as Wizz Jones, is an English acoustic guitarist, singer and songwriter. He was born in Thornton Heath, Surrey. England and has been performing since the late 1950s and sound recording an ...
,
Jorma Kaukonen Jorma Ludwik Kaukonen, Jr. (; ; born December 23, 1940) is an American blues, folk music, folk, and Rock music, rock guitarist. Kaukonen performed with Jefferson Airplane and still performs regularly on tour with Hot Tuna, which started as a sid ...

Jorma Kaukonen
,
Keb' Mo' Kevin Roosevelt Moore (born October 3, 1951), known as Keb' Mo', is an American blues musician and five-time Grammy Award winner. He is a singer, guitarist, and songwriter, living in Nashville, Tennessee. He has been described as "a living link ...
,
Ollabelle Ollabelle is a New York-based folk music Folk music is a music genre A music genre is a conventional category that identifies some pieces of music as belonging to a shared tradition or set of conventions. It is to be distinguished from ' ...
,
Resurrection Band Resurrection Band, also known as Rez Band or REZ, was a Christian rock Christian rock is a form of rock music that features lyrics focusing on matters of Christian faith, often with an emphasis on Jesus in Christianity, Jesus, typically per ...
, and
John Sebastian John Benson Sebastian (born March 17, 1944) is an American singer-songwriter, guitarist, harmonicist, and autoharpist. He is best known as a founder of The Lovin' Spoonful The Lovin' Spoonful is an American rock band which was popular dur ...

John Sebastian
(of the
Lovin' Spoonful Loving may refer to: * Love, a range of human emotions * Loving (surname) * ''Loving v. Virginia'', a 1967 landmark United States Supreme Court civil rights case Film and television * Loving (1970 film), ''Loving'' (1970 film), an American fi ...
).


Biography

Davis was born in
Laurens, South Carolina Laurens is a city in Laurens County, South Carolina South Carolina () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State ...
, in the
Piedmont it, Piemontese , population_note = , population_blank1_title = , population_blank1 = , demographics_type1 = , demographics1_footnotes = , demographics1_title1 = , demographics1_info1 = , demographics1_title2 ...
region. Of the eight children his mother bore, he was one of two who survived to adulthood. He became blind as an infant. He recalled being poorly treated by his mother and that his father placed him in the care of his paternal grandmother. Davis reported that when he was 10 years old, his father was killed in
Birmingham, Alabama Birmingham ( ) is a city in the north central region of the U.S. state In the , a state is a , of which there are currently 50. Bound together in a , each state holds al jurisdiction over a separate and defined geographic territory wher ...
. He later said he had been told that his father was shot by the Birmingham sheriff. He sang for the first time at Gray Court's
Baptist Baptists form a major branch of Protestantism, Protestant Christianity distinguished by baptizing professing Christianity, Christian believers only (believer's baptism, as opposed to infant baptism), and doing so by complete Immersion baptism, ...
church in
South Carolina South Carolina () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspap ...

South Carolina
.W. K. McNeil, ''Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music'', Routledge, USA, 2013, p. 97 He took to the guitar and assumed a unique multivoice style produced solely with his thumb and index finger, playing gospel,
ragtime Ragtime – also spelled rag-time or rag time – is a musical style that enjoyed its peak popularity between 1895 and 1919. Its cardinal trait is its syncopated Syncopation is a musical term meaning a variety of rhythms played together to ...
, and blues tunes along with traditional and original tunes in four-part harmony. In the mid-1920s, Davis migrated to
Durham, North Carolina Durham ( ) is a city A city is a large .Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. London: Penguin.Kuper, A. and Kuper, J., eds (1996) ''The Social Science Encyclopedia''. 2nd edition. London: Routledge. It can be defi ...
, a major center of black culture at the time. There he taught
Blind Boy Fuller Blind Boy Fuller (born Fulton Allen, July 10, 1904 or 1907February 13, 1941) was an American blues Blues is a music genre and musical form which was originated in the Deep South of the United States around the 1860s by African-Americans fro ...
and collaborated with a number of other artists in the
Piedmont blues Piedmont blues (also known as East Coast, or Southeastern blues) refers primarily to a guitar style, which is characterized by a fingerpicking approach in which a regular, alternating thumb bass Bass or Basses may refer to: Fish * Bass (fish) ...
scene, including
Bull City Red Bull City Red (born George Washington, February 19, 1917 – October 1958) was an American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, from, or related to the United States of America, commonly known as the United States The ...
. In 1935,
J. B. Long James Baxter Long Sr. (December 25, 1903 – February 25, 1975) was an American store manager, owner, and record company talent scout, responsible in the 1930s for discovering Fulton Allen (" Blind Boy Fuller") and Gary Davis, among other notab ...
, a store manager with a reputation for supporting local artists, introduced Davis, Fuller, and Red to the
American Record Company The American Record Company was an American record label that was in business from 1904 to 1906. History The American Record Company (commonly abbreviated as "ARCo") was founded by Ellsworth A. Hawthorne and Horace Sheble, formerly designers of ...
. The subsequent
recording A record, recording or records may refer to: An item or collection of data Computing * Record (computer science) In computer science Computer science deals with the theoretical foundations of information, algorithms and the architectures ...
sessions (available on his ''Complete Early Recordings'') marked the real beginning of Davis's career. He became a Christian and
ordained Ordination is the process by which individuals are Consecration, consecrated, that is, set apart and elevated from the laity class to the clergy, who are thus then authorization, authorized (usually by the religious denomination, denominational hi ...

ordained
as a
Baptist Baptists form a major branch of Protestantism, Protestant Christianity distinguished by baptizing professing Christianity, Christian believers only (believer's baptism, as opposed to infant baptism), and doing so by complete Immersion baptism, ...
minister Minister may refer to: * Minister (Christianity)Image:LutheranClergy.JPG, upA Lutheran minister wearing a Geneva gown and Bands (neckwear), bands. In many churches, ministers wear distinctive clothing, called vestments, when presiding over service ...
in Washington, North Carolina. In 1933. Following his conversion and especially after his ordination, Davis began to prefer inspirational gospel music. In the 1940s, the blues scene in Durham began to decline, and Davis moved to New York. In 1951, he recorded an oral history for the folklorist Elizabeth Lyttleton Harold (the wife of Alan Lomax). who transcribed their conversations in a typescript more than 300 pages long. The Roots revival, folk revival of the 1960s invigorated Davis's career. He performed at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. 11 songs from those performances were released on the 1967 album, At Newport . Peter, Paul and Mary recorded his version of " Samson and Delilah", also known as "If I Had My Way", a song by Blind Willie Johnson, which Davis had popularized. Although the song was in the public domain it was copyrighted as having been written by Gary Davis at the time of the recording by Peter, Paul and Mary. The royalties that came to him allowed him to buy a house and live comfortably for the rest of his life. He referred to the house as the house that Peter, Paul and Mary built. The Grateful Dead covered "Samson and Delilah" on their album ''Terrapin Station'' and credited it to him. They also covered his "
Death Don't Have No Mercy "Death Don't Have No Mercy" is a song by the American gospel blues singer-guitarist Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Gary Davis. It was first recorded on August 24, 1960, for the album ''Harlem Street Singer'' (1960), released by Prestige Records' Blues ...
". Eric Von Schmidt credited Davis with three-quarters of Schmidt's "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down", which Bob Dylan covered on his debut album for Columbia Records. The Blues Hall of Fame singer and harmonica player Darrell Mansfield has recorded several of Davis's songs. The Rolling Stones credited Davis and Mississippi Fred McDowell for "You Gotta Move (song), You Gotta Move" on their 1971 album ''Sticky Fingers''. Davis died of a heart attack in May 1972, in Hammonton, New Jersey. He is buried in plot 68 of Rockville Cemetery, in Lynbrook, New York, Lynbrook, Long Island, New York.


Discography

Many of Davis' recordings were published Posthumous work, posthumously.


Posthumous recognition

Reverend Gary Davis was recognized alongside
Blind Boy Fuller Blind Boy Fuller (born Fulton Allen, July 10, 1904 or 1907February 13, 1941) was an American blues Blues is a music genre and musical form which was originated in the Deep South of the United States around the 1860s by African-Americans fro ...
as Main Honorees by the Sesquicentennial Honors Commission at the Durham 150 Closing Ceremony in Durham, North Carolina on November 2, 2019. The posthumous recognition was bestowed upon them for their contributions to the Piedmont blues, Piedmont Blues.


See also

* Cocaine Blues * Gospel blues


References


Further reading

* Mann, Woody (2003). ''The Art of Acoustic Blues Guitar: Ragtime and Gospel''. Oak Publications. * Reevy, Tony; Weaver, Caroline (July 2002). "Street Sessions, Piedmont Style". ''Our State.'' * Stambler, Irwin; Stambler, Lyndon (2001). ''Folk and Blues, the Encyclopedia''. New York: St. Martin's Press. * Tilling, Robert (1992). ''Oh, What a Beautiful City! A Tribute to Rev. Gary Davis''. Paul Mill Press. . * von Schmidt, Eric (2008). "Remembering Reverend Gary Davis". ''Sing Out!'' 51(4)67–73. * Zack, Ian (2015). ''Say No to the Devil: The Life and Musical Genius of Rev. Gary Davis''. University of Chicago Press. .


External links


RevGaryDavis.com
a site devoted to Gary Davis.
''Harlem Street Singer'', 2013 documentary film on the life and music of Reverend Gary Davis

www.folkways.si.edu
Smithsonian Folkways recordings information. * * [ Davis biography on AllMusic.com]
Biography of the Reverend Gary Davis from the Association of Cultural Equity

The guitar students of Rev. Gary Davis
with links to performances
The Rev. Gary Davis performing on WNYC Radio, February 10, 1966.
{{DEFAULTSORT:Davis, Reverend Gary 1896 births 1972 deaths 20th-century American composers African-American guitarists American blues guitarists American male guitarists American blues singers American street performers American gospel singers American harmonica players Baptist ministers from the United States Blind musicians Country blues musicians East Coast blues musicians Fingerstyle guitarists Gospel blues musicians Piedmont blues musicians People from Laurens, South Carolina Ragtime composers 20th-century American guitarists 20th-century American clergy 20th-century African-American male singers 20th-century Baptist ministers