Reverend Gary Davis

by Arielle Carlson, UNC Asheville Student

 


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Image compliments of Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop.

Full name: Gary D. Davis

Recorded under: Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Reverend Gary Davis, "Blind Gary"

Born: April 30, 1896, in Laurens, SC
Died: May 5, 1972, in Hammonton, NJ

Instrument: Guitar (principally); also banjo, harmonica, and piano (w/vocals)

Biographical Sketch 

"Blind Reverend Gary Davis" graced over five decades with his musical contributions. Despite the fact that Davis was born partially sightless and grew completely blind by the time he was an adult, he self-taught himself the guitar. He began playing at the age of six and was one of the best blues guitarists of his era by the time he was 20. His music influenced other blues singers such as Blind Willie Johnson and Blind Boy Fuller, and went on to inspire famous modern folk/rock/blues musicians such as Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal, and the Grateful Dead. Davis played on the streets and side corners of Harlem for twenty years, and during that time was drawn to the sounds of gospel, jazz, marches, and ragtime music. His personal style budded from a fusion of those various beats, which he mostly combined and perfected in Durham, NC. He first began recording in the 1930's, backed only by a local businessman with faith in his talents. Essentially his first recordings were songs mixed between gospel and blues tunes. The payment for this session was never finalized, and Davis avoided the studio for another 19 years. It was in these years that he broke away from the bluesy side of his music, and concentrated on performing purely gospel songs. In 1937 he became an ordained minister and refused to persue his blues career after that. He moved to New York City in the early '40's and recorded seven songs in 1956 that redefined him in the 'folk revival movement'. He sang songs such as "Samson and Delilah" and "Twelve gates to the City" at the Newport Folk Festival. Davis was greatly received by the live audience and even went on to record a live album under the Vanguard Record Label. In 1967 and 70 there were documentaries already praising his contributions to the blues, folk, and spiritual music scene. His unique style and dedication to music impressed a whole range of fans, and has inspired musicians to further strive for greatness and originality in multiple genres of music.

Videos

Master of the Country Blues. Videorecording (180 min) New Jersey: Yazoo Video.

Rev. Gary Davis & Sonny Terry. Videorecording (60 min) New Jersey: Yazoo Video.

Books 

Bastin, Bruce. Red River Blues: The Blues Tradition in the Southeast. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.

Cohn, Lawrence. Nothing But the Blues: the Music and the Musicians. Abbeville Press, New York. 

Obrecht, Jas. Blues Guitar: The Men Who Made the Music, from the pages of Guitar Player Magazine. San Francisco: GPI Books, 1993.

Stefan, Grossman. Ragtime Blues Guitar of Reverend Gary Davis. Mel Bay Publications, 2001.

Tilling, Robert. "Oh What A Wonderful City!": A Tribute to Reverend Gary Davis. Channel Islands: Paul Mill Press, 1992.

Bogdanov V, Woodstra C, Erlewine, S. All Music Guide to the Blues. 3rd ed. Backbeat Books, 2003.

Articles

For a more complete list of articles on Davis from the 1960s and 1970s, see Hart, Mary L., Brenda M. Eagles, and Lisa N. Howorth. The Blues: A Bibliographical Guide. New York: Garland, 1989, pp. 224-27.

Phillips, Bill. "Piedmont Country Blues." Southern Exposure. 2.1 (1974)

Aldin, Mary Katherine, "Living The Country Blues: Reverend Gary Davis" Living Blues 86 (May/June 1989)

Dallas, Karl. "Farewell To The Holy Bluesman." Melody Maker 20 (May 1972)

Fenton, Joan. "Rev. Gary Davis" Sing Out! 21 (September/October 1972): 4-5.

Grossman, Stephan. "A Rare Interview with Rev. Gary Davis." Sing Out! 23 (March-April 1974) 2-5, 36, 46.

Smith, Chris. "A Number That (Almost) No Man Could Number" Blues & Rhythm 118 (April 1997)

Recordings on CD 

Davis, Gary. Harlem Street Singer. Bluesville, 1960.

Davis, Gary. Pure Religion and Bad Company. Smithsonian/Folkways 

Davis, Gary. Blues & Ragtime. Sanachie, 1993.

Davis, Gary. Complete Works (1935-1949). Document, 1994.

Web Sites 

"Reverend Gary Davis Interview." Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop. http://guitarvideos.com/interviews/davis/index.html
Accessed 10 Dec. 2003

Dead Blues Guys. Accessed 15 Sept. 2003 <http://www.deadbluesguys.com/>

Reverend Gary Davis. Accessed 2 Dec. 2003 
<http://www.revgarydavis.com/bio.html>

All Music Guide. Accessed 10 Dec. 2003 <http://allmusic.com

 


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Last updated 11 January 2005.