Detroit Mourns Don Davis, Banker, Record Producer

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    Don Davis had several careers in his lifetime, and was a major success in each. That includes being chairman and CEO of First Independence Bank (three decades), the only African-American owned bank in Michigan and one of the few in the country, producer of hit records, owner of a recording studio and being an accomplished musician and songwriter.

    Donald Davis, born Oct. 25, 1938 in Detroit, died on Thursday, June 5, at the age of 75 following a brief illness.

    Davis’ music career started in the mid-1950s at which time the Central High School graduate formed a jazz group called the Don Davis Trio. However, the trio was short-lived and Davis opted to become a studio musician.

    He played guitar for an array of Detroit based record companies, including Motown, Golden World and Ric-Tic.

    In the late 1960s Davis began focusing on producing and writing, becoming a key figure with Memphis-based Stax Records. (He continued to live in Detroit.) He landed a national No. 1 hit in the fall of 1968 with “Who’s Making Love?” by Johnnie Taylor and several other hits by the singer, including “Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone” and “Take Care of Your Homework.”

    But his greatest success was “Disco Lady,” also by Taylor, which was certified Platinum in early 1976 and remained No. 1 on the national R&B chart for six weeks and spent four weeks in the No. 1 spot on the Pop chart.

    Another No. 1 hit — Pop and R&B — was “You Don’t Have to be a Star (To be in My Show)” by former 5th Dimension members Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., also in 1976.

    In the ’70s, Davis formed a record production and music publishing company called Groovesville. He also purchased United Sound recording studio, utilized by such artists as the Dramatics, George Clinton, the Dells and David Ruffin.

    It came as a major surprise when Don Davis moved into the banking field. Always business minded, he was able to take over First Independence Bank, which was struggling at the time, as a result of having purchased a large number of shares.

    With Davis at the helm, First Independence became a major success, eventually recognized as the 12th largest African-American owned bank in the United States.

    “Don was the epitome of Detroit’s can-do spirit,” said Mayor Mike Duggan. “His presence will be sorely missed, but his legacy will endure.”

    Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit Branch NAACP, said, “in the mid-’70s through his company Groovesville the innovative work of Don Davis,” helped to craft the (aforementioned) song “You Don’t Have to be a Star (To be in My Show),” by the team of Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.”

    Anthony said one of the lines from that song, “I don’t need no superstar, ’cause I’ll accept you as you are,” will remain “forever rooted in the inspiring legacy of Don Davis.”

    The NAACP leader said Davis accepted all people for who they were and not who they should become.

    “His music, bank and his family all centered in the midst of a heart that overflowed with grace and sensitivity to a community that yearns for them all,” Anthony said. “The Scriptures teach us that “We have indeed reaped of the fruit from the season of ‘the Don.’ He lived his purpose. He served his community. He loved his family.”

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