It’s taken about 15 years to arrive, which at the very least qualifies as a difficult birth, but Thornetta Davis’ new album, Honest Woman, is finally a reality and due to be properly celebrated this coming Sunday, November 27, from 6-9 pm at Detroit Music Hall. The album, which Davis said is the one she has been wanting to create since forever, is well worth the wait. And the musical lineup scheduled to help Detroit’s reigning Queen of the Blues celebrate this noteworthy achievement includes some serious local heavy hitters, including (but not limited to) Ramona Collins, Nikki James, Sky Covington, Special Anointing, Kathleen Murray, Kimmie Horne, Audrey Northington, ScatDiva, and Satori Shakoor as MC for the evening.
Davis was crowned Detroit’s Queen of the Blues a little over a year ago on August 23, 2015. She inherited her title from the late great Alberta Adams who died on Christmas Day, 2014. Adams was truly one of Detroit’s greatest blues/jazz singers with a resume that included a stint with Duke Ellington and a career that reached back through all the great clubs of Detroit’s legendary Blackbottom such as the 20 Grand Club and the Flame Show Bar. So being designated as the one to fill those shoes was no small honor coming from an incredibly deep and talented pool of Detroit peers who all were willing to accept that yes, she was without question the one.
In Detroit, that’s saying something.
When Davis was crowned Queen of the Blues in Detroit, she reflected on her previous album, Sunday Morning Music, as well as her ongoing efforts to complete Honest Woman in an interview for the Michigan Chronicle:
“And so they say, ‘OK, Thornetta, it’s been six months. You need to start writing.’ And lo and behold, at that time I was in a relationship that took me through some changes. So I just started writing about it. And the music was already there, so I wrote my lyrics to what was on the tape that they gave me. A little cassette tape. God, that was a long time ago! And that’s where ‘Sunday Morning Music’ came from. The title track? I was just staring out the window at the crack house that was next door to me. I remember church on Sunday morning, and they were closing Catholic churches, and the lyrics just came.”
But that was in 1996. The focus now is on her next project which has been coming for…well…a little more than 15 years. But hey, it’s Thornetta. And the album will be called “Honest Woman,” brought to you by Detroit’s very own Queen of the Blues.
“I done been through bad relationships, bad karma, and now I’m happy I’m in the relationship I’m in, and I feel more creative than ever, and inspired.”
One year later the payoff for that inspiration is evident, although Davis still laughs at how much longer it took for her to produce the album than anticipated.
“Actually I started recording some of the tunes in 2012. Because I thought I’d have it out in 2013 when I tuned 50. When 2013 came I went back in the studio,” she said.
But it was worth it.
“Man, I am so ecstatic about the way it came out. I was holding off because I didn’t think I could produce. I thought that I needed somebody to tell me what I wanted to happen. But I already knew what I wanted. I just didn’t know that I could relay this message to all these great musicians that I have. There was certain vibes in the songs that I wanted. Like the song, ‘Honest Woman’, I wanted to get that retro soul sound of women who had inspired me like Millie Jackson, Denise LaSalle, and so I listened to their music and I described what I would like to happen in that particular song. And the song ‘Whole Lotta Lovin’,’ I had been singin it for awhile, but I really wanted to have a New Orleans kind of style with the piano and everything, so I pulled that off. And then there was the tune ‘Set Me Free’, which was my rock anthem.”
‘Set Me Free’ was recorded with the able assistance of Saginaw-born blues guitar virtuoso Larry McCray and his band, one of the many top-shelf local musicians featured on her album. Pianist Alvin Waddles, who Davis contacted to help her direct a choir for one of her songs, is another.
“God had me in touch with everybody. All the people I wanted to work with. He and I just happened to have a relationship right before it was time for me to record. Because I didn’t personally know Alvin a year ago. Two years ago. But somehow I ended up doing a gig with him. And then I took his name and number down and he had me come in and do something with him. It was strange how it all came about. And then when it came time to record, I thought ‘I want a choir’. And then ‘Alvin Waddles!’ “
Davis said she hopes to get some national attention with this album, especially if it attracts the attention of certain national artists with whom she would like to record like T-Bone Burnett or John Hyatt. Perhaps that’s why she felt compelled to do Honest Woman her way this time. Because nobody could do Thornetta better than Thornetta.
“I just felt like I had a message. If you listen to all the songs, you can tell they were personal. Everything that was written about I actually went through. Just like birthing a baby, you know? I had to get it all out. There were people throwing songs my way, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I said I have to do this one myself. Although I didn’t think I would be producing it, and recording it, and wrapping it up in a pretty package, I thought I was gonna get signed to a label, you know? But no, I had to do it all. I took the front cover photo myself. It was a selfie taken with my phone. Somebody told me it looks like ‘You better buy my album!’”
You heard that, right?