Roquel "Billy" Davis, one of the creative minds behind the rise of American soul music in the 1950s and 1960s, died in New York City today after a long illness, aged 76.
Under the pseudonym Tyran Carlo, Davis co-wrote, with Berry Gordy, some of Jackie Wilson's biggest hits: Reet Petite (1957), Lonely Teardrops (1958), That's Why (I Love You So) (1959) and I'll Be Satisfied (1959).
>>We didn't even know we were supposed to be paid," Davis told The Detroit News in 2003, of his partnership with Gordy. <<
>>But when they realized that because they were writing, arranging and producing the songs, they should be paid quite a lot, the duo complained to Nat Tarnapol, Wilson's manager. Nat's position was, "Jackie's a hit artist, I can get anybody to write for Jackie now." We said, "Well, if that's how you feel since we're doing everything anyway, we can go out and find our own artists."<<
>>That's what led to the concept of Motown. If it wasn't for that rejection, then maybe there wouldn't have been a Motown.<<
Davis grew up in Detroit's north end, and was a cousin of Jackie Wilson's (their fathers were uncle and nephew). He was also a cousin of the late Lawrence Payton of the Four Tops, and sometimes sang with the early Tops, then called the Four Aims, as the fifth Aim.
He wrote songs for the Flamingos and the Moonglows in the 50s before hooking up with Gordy. After Gordy founded Motown, Davis went on to join famed Chicago blues record label Chess Records in 1961 as a producer, artist and repertoire director.
There he guided the careers of soul singers Etta James, Fontella Bass and Billy Stewart, and penned songs for others including Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, The Supremes and Gladys Knight.
In the late 60s, Davis co-wrote I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing, that ran in the iconic Coca-Cola commercial at the time.
Davis had just produced an album for Australian singer Kate Ceberano weeks before his death. In 2003, he was portrayed onstage in The Jackie Wilson Story, playing the role of narrator for the dramatization of the Detroit-born singer's life.
The funeral will be in Detroit on Thursday; details to be announced.