Originally published on Feb. 24, 2021. Updated on Feb. 28, 2022.
The past year of pandemic cancellations have put a halt on the many projects and concerts Detroit’s “Queen of the Blues” Thornetta Davis had planned for 2021, but in her time to reflect she’s continued to write, record and create. Davis sits down with One Detroit’s Christy McDonald to talk about the challenges that many musicians, like herself, have had to navigate for the first time through the pandemic.
Plus, Davis shares how it felt to work with iconic artists Gladys Knight, Bob Segar and Etta James, as well as record a song, “I Am America,” with actor and singer Jeff Daniels. Davis discusses her initial reaction to being invited to work with Daniels, and how she felt seeing the song be used in a Georgia Senate election advertisement.
Christy McDonald: What has this last year been like for you as a musician?
Thornetta Davis: Wow. Well, it’s definitely been a crazy experience because I haven’t been able to get out and perform. There were so many things we were going to do this past year. Me and my band were going to do a lot of traveling. I think the week of the cancelation of everything all over the country, we were going to Austin, Texas, and we were going to perform down to a number of gigs for the South by Southwest convention, and they canceled that immediately.
Christy McDonald: You’ve worked with everyone from Etta James, to Gladys Knight, to Bob Seger, that you always feel like you have been in that arena in terms of working with artists, but still pushing your name out there.
Thornetta Davis: You know, I was always behind the scenes singing the background and always wanting to go forward and do my own thing; so I’ve managed to do both. I never did go on tour with those famous people, but I managed to sing on their records, which helped lift my career up to do what I needed to do. This past 4 years, I released an album called “Honest Woman”. And “Honest Woman” was something that I had in place, that I had been working on for 20 years.
Finally got it out, started winning all these great awards for it, and then the pandemic hits. And I was looking forward to touring all over the world. When those things happen, you get scared, you start wondering what’s going to happen, and, I thank God for the Internet, you know because that is starting to help me when people ask me to do certain performances recorded.
Christy McDonald: About a month ago, we heard a recording of you and Jeff Daniels singing this song called “I Am America”. Tell me about how that song came into being and your collaboration with Jeff Daniels, that everyone knows as an actor but likes to sing a bit and perform as well.
Thornetta Davis: Well, I got a call from Jeff’s people and they asked me would I be willing to perform with him on a song that he’s putting on his album. And I was excited, I didn’t know to what capacity, I just thought, I’m singing with Jeff Daniels. And so when they sent me the music and I noticed that it only had the hook and one of the verses and I had to write the rest of it, and I said, okay well this is this is good, this is a stretch for me, but I’m going to enjoy this.
And I wanted to speak on what I’ve been feeling as far as what’s been going on in the world, what’s been going on in this country, what we’ve experienced, all of us, but what I’ve experienced in my life as far as being a black person in this country. And so I wrote the words, give me my freedom, all I want to do is breathe, and all of these things that have not been happening in this country for hundreds of years. And I wanted to put it in this song.
Christy McDonald: When did you hear it for the first time and what was the reaction?
Thornetta Davis: The first time I heard it, for the public, is when my Twitter started blowing up. I had no idea they were going to use me for the ad campaign, which I’m glad they did that, too. But I’m like, why is my phone blowing up? And I went to it, it was like nine o’clock at night, and people are liking me and following me all of a sudden on my Twitter page. And so I went to, well, the reason why and I’m like, ‘Oh, woah! this is why. They put it on this commercial for the two senators down in Georgia.’
Christy McDonald: You know, it’s the intersection of what you just said is speaking your truth, activism, everything colliding in one way, and you said even stretching yourself into places maybe musically that you hadn’t been before.
Thornetta Davis: I wanted to write a song speaking on the things that have been going on as far as the police brutality and people making peaceful protests, and having the president at that time answer with more violence, and I’m like, how does this work? You know, why can’t we just be at peace? I’m just looking forward to better days happening. I got a song called “I Believe Everything’s Gonna Be All Right”, and a lot of things happened this last year that had me struggling with that belief, and I believe God gave me that song to help others keep the faith.
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