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Billy Davis, Jr.

Singer Billy Davis, Jr. was born on June 26, 1938 in St. Louis, Missouri to William Davis, Sr. and Norris Wilbur. Davis started singing in gospel choirs at an early age. He attended Washington Technical High School in St. Louis and sang with a band called the Emeralds. In 1958, Davis and his father opened a nightclub, where he worked and performed music. In 1961, he was drafted into the United States Army and formed another band, The Kingsmen, while stationed in Germany.

In 1965, Davis moved to Los Angeles, California seeking a recording opportunity with Motown Records. While waiting for his chance to go into the studio with one of their producers, he and friend Lamonte McLemore decided to start a singing group as a hobby. The Versatiles was formed, which included Davis, McLemore, Marilyn McCoo, Florence LaRue, and Ron Townson. The group signed to the Soul City label, changed their name to The 5th Dimension, and recorded their first hit in 1966, "Go Where You Wanna Go." In 1967, they released “Up, Up, and Away,” which won four Grammy Awards and was the title track to The 5th Dimension's first hit album. In 1969, The 5th Dimension released The Age of Aquarius. The album's first single, "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In," became a mega-hit and occupied the number one spot on the charts for six weeks. It earned the group two more Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year.

In 1969, Davis married bandmate Marilyn McCoo, and in 1975, they left The 5th Dimension. Together, they released 1976's I Hope We Get To Love In Time, featuring the single, "You Don't Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)." The song went straight to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned the duo a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus. Davis and McCoo went on to host The Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. Show on CBS in 1977.

In 1982, Davis returned to the studio and recorded a solo gospel album called Let Me Have a Dream, which was co-produced by the world-renown Gospel artist, the Rev. James Cleveland. In the 1990s, he continued to sing and explored a career in musical theatre, starring in Dreamgirls in North Carolina in 1993, and Blues in the Night, at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, California in 1994. He later founded the Soldiers For the Second Coming Music Ministry and co-authored the book Up, Up and Away…How We Found Love, Faith and Lasting Marriage in the Entertainment World with McCoo in 2004.

Davis has also earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and The 5th Dimension was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2002. He received an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in 2012.

Billy Davis, Jr. was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on July 29, 2014.

Accession Number

A2014.179

Sex

Male

Interview Date

7/29/2014

Last Name

Davis

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Occupation
Schools

Washington Technical High School

University of Maryland Eastern Shore

Coleman Elementary School

First Name

Billy

Birth City, State, Country

St. Louis

HM ID

DAV33

State

Missouri

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Interview Description
Birth Date

6/26/1938

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles

Country

USA

Short Description

Singer Billy Davis, Jr. (1938 - ) is a Grammy Award-winning musician and an original member of The 5th Dimension. He is also co-author, with his wife Marilyn McCoo, of Up, Up and Away…How We Found Love, Faith and Lasting Marriage in the Entertainment World.

Employment

Self Employed

U.S. Army

Various

5th Dimension

McCoo & Davis

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Billy Davis, Jr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Billy Davis, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about his maternal family history

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about his maternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about his paternal family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about his paternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about his paternal family's experience in Missouri

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about his father's lumber company

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about how his parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Billy Davis, Jr. describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Billy Davis, Jr. describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about his childhood neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about his varied religious experiences as a youth

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about musical traditions in different churches

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Billy Davis, Jr. recalls memories from his grade school years

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about his love for baseball and professional baseball teams in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about how he met HistoryMaker Lamonte McLemore and Ron Townson

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about his favorite subjects in school

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about musicians he looked up to as a teenager

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about his grade school education

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about his high school band, the Emeralds

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about dropping out of high school

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about his job and musical trajectory after dropping out of high school

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about his decision to sing popular music

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about developing his music and performance skills at the Havana Club in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Billy Davis, Jr. describes being drafted into the U.S. Army

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about being stationed at Fort Knox in Kentucky and the Merrell Barracks in Germany while serving in the U.S. Army

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about playing music while in the U.S. Army

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about performing at the Apollo Theatre and the events of 1963

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about opening the Oriole nightclub in St. Louis, Missouri

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about separating from his first wife

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about meeting HistoryMaker Lamonte McLemore and moving to California

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about forming the Versatiles with Ron Townson and HistoryMakers Lamonte McLemore and Florence LaRue

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo describe their singing style and the origin of The Versatiles' names

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about the mentorship of Rene DeKnight

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about The Versatiles' manager, Marc Gordon

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about their first hit, 'Go Where You Wanna Go' and renaming The Versatiles as The 5th Dimension

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about The 5th Dimension's first album and meeting songwriter Jimmy Webb

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about the significance of The 5th Dimension's first album 'Up, Up and Away'

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about The 5th Dimension's second album, 'The Magic Garden'

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about working with Bones Howe on The 5th Dimension's second album, 'The Magic Garden;

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about The 5th Dimension's television performances

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about The 5th Dimension's album, "The Age of Aquarius"

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about how they saw 'Hair' the musical on Broadway

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about life on the road and falling in love with each other

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Billy Davis, Jr and Marilyn McCoo talk about the television special, 'The 5th Dimension: An Odyssey and the Cosmic Universe of Peter Max'

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about 'One Less Bell to Answer' and 'Love's Lines, Angles and Rhymes'

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about 'Wedding Bell Blues' and connecting with audiences

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about their record contract and the 1971 television special, 'The 5th Dimension Travelling Sunshine Show'

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about The 5th Dimension's contract with ABC Records

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about leaving The 5th Dimension and recording the original group's final album

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo reflect on their last album with The 5th Dimension, 'Earthbound'

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about their joint album and television show

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about their second and third joint albums and their international success

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Marilyn McCoo talks about recording a solo album and hosting 'Solid Gold'

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about recording a gospel album

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Marilyn McCoo talks about being cast on 'Days of Our Lives'

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo describes performing for Pope Saint John Paul II and President George H.W. Bush

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about reuniting with The 5th Dimension in 1990

Tape: 7 Story: 11 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about The 5th Dimension's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Tape: 7 Story: 12 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about their Christian faith

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Marilyn McCoo talks about winning a Grammy and performing on Broadway's 'Show Boat'

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about going on tour and working with Jamie Foxx

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about Davis' prostate cancer diagnosis

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about their book 'Up, Up and Away: How We Found Love, Faith, and Lasting Marriage in the Entertainment World'

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about their recent work and touring with Sir Cliff Richard

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about their legacy and their relationship

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about what they would do differently

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about their hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Billy Davis, Jr. talks about his theatre performances

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about Davis' son and their praise ministry

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about their community service in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo talk about their relationship with the original members of The 5th Dimension including HistoryMaker Florence LaRue

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Billy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn McCoo describe how they want to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

7$10

DATitle
Billy Davis, Jr. talks about the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood
Billy Davis, Jr. talks about meeting HistoryMaker Lamonte McLemore and moving to California
Transcript
I asked the same question of your wife [HM Marilyn McCoo], but what were some of the sights, and sounds, and smells of growing up?$$Well, I would, I would say the, the, I, I, I would say smells of, you know, what, what, in St. Louis [Missouri], you, you know, we, we, we--it was a steel mill. You could smell smokes, you know, the smells of, of steel burning. And 'cause that's what, it was the Scullin Steel was one of the major places where, where a lot men would work, and you would, you could, you could smell it, you know. And, and, and if you were fortunate enough to, to, to live in, in an area that, that wasn't deep in the city, that just had an area where there were trees, and, and, and, and, and, and, and birds, and, and, and the blue jays, and robins, and all those kind of birds, I mean cardinals. That's where the St. Louis Cardinals came from. (Unclear)--cardinal bird, you would see all of them in, in St. Louis, you know. And, and sights, it was just, just, just trains and, and things like that, you know, trucks. There was a lot of, lot of industry there.$$Okay, okay, now was there, was there a lot of music in, in your home?$$Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, it was a lot of music in the house. I mean, my sisters and, and, and, and me, we would sing. We would sing songs. We would sing songs, get together and, and, and harmonize. And I just, I know [HM] Marilyn [McCoo] talked about--we talked about it because we did the same thing in our family. And it was, it was beautiful, beautiful to be able to get together and sing because during those years you didn't have a lot of things to entertain ourselves with, not like they do today. But, but one, one--which I think is missing today because they need to be entertaining themselves with each other instead of with the, a lot of the stuff that they entertain themselves with. But it's brought the family closer together. We, we enjoyed each other. We couldn't wait to get together and sing and show off in front of each other. It was just, it was just a lot of fun. And yeah, so there was always music in the house. I remember listening to albums and old blues songs, you know, like I was, I was, I was a, I was a--[clearing throat]--excuse me--I was the type of kid that I loved all kind of music. I want, I wanted to, to--once I knew I could sing, I wanted to sing everything. And so I would get into, I would listen to jazz. I would listen to blues and, and Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, and, and I would listen to all those kind of guys, Memphis, Memphis Slim. And then, then on the other hand, I'd, I'd be listening to Snooky Lanson on the Lucky Strike Parade [Officially Your Hit Parade] and, and people like that. And, and, and then I would, I, I would, I remember my mother would, would take us to the opera out at Forest Park. And, and, and I remember the first time I went and experienced an opera. It blew my mind. You know, it was like wow, these people are on stage, and they're changing outfits. And it's, they're painting a picture, they're paint a picture for us of life and how all these went, what used to be years ago. I remember seeing the 'King and I' in the Forest Park on stage.$$So this is a big park in the middle of the city?$$In the, in the--Oak Forest--$$Yeah.$$--Park is one of your major, major parks in the United States. I mean it's world-known.$$And beautiful park.$$And beautiful park, and plus it's got a world-known zoo, you know. But they also had an opera house out there. And we would go out there and my God, I was just, I mean, to see the opera, it, it, it fascinated me. I mean I couldn't believe all this beauty and all this stuff--[clearing throat]--excuse me--was happening on stage. And, and it was, it was just, it was just, it was just I knew then that, that, that where I wanted to be, 'cause I didn't know if I--but I enjoyed opera. I still enjoy to this day, classical music. I, I, I, I'll tell you, I listen to everything, but, and I enjoy it all. But I never thought I would be an opera singer.$$Now St. Louis is one, but Houston [Texas]--(simultaneous)--$$$$--there's an opera in a park, and I can't think of too many other places that have an opera in the park. In fact, I can't think of any right now, but they were like, what, the Mooney's Theater out there and all that, you know, so--$$Mm-hmm.$$Yeah.$$Well, during those years I didn't know, I, I didn't know it was an opera in the park until we--that my mother [Norris Oldham Davis] took us. And once, once she took us out there, then I wanted to keep going because it interest me. It was the music, you know. And I don't what other parks had operas in 'em or, or nothin'. I never thought about it after that. But it's one of the things that stuck in my mind and my heart, that, that, that, that it was a part of the music that I would love, you know. And so that was a good experience for me for, for preparation for, for what I wanted to do in my life.$Now you left St. Louis [Missouri] in '65 [1965]. Now, did you, did you know your friends were out there, you know--$$Yeah.$$--[HM] Lamonte [McLemore] and--$$Yeah, well, well, Lamonte's brother, Donald, he was coming through St. Louis. And I had talked to him, and I had, I had called Lamonte and asked him, you know, if he knew anybody at Motown Records on the West Coast, and he said yes. He said I know the president on the, of the West Coast. I said wow, that's great. I said do you think you can get me a, a, an appointment with him. I said I wanna go, I wanna meet him, so I go see about getting with the company. Lamonte asked me, said well, can you sing? I said, I said yeah, yeah. I say, I said you get the appointment. I'll do the rest, you know, and so he did. And at that particular time, his brother was coming through St. Louis visiting some of the, his people. So that was my ride out to Los Angeles [California]. So Dunk came through--Donald--$$He actually drove, he drove back from L.A. [Los Angeles, California] and was going back, huh?$$Yeah, he drove--$$Yeah.$$--from L.A. coming to see his family. And then we got--he picked me up now on the way back and, and drove back to California. I drove with him--$$How, how--$$And--$$--how many hours is it from St. Louis to Los Angeles?$$Oh it's--$$Or how many days is it?$$It's about a day or so, or, or more. It's according to how long you wanna stay on the road, you know, 'cause we stopped in Denver [Colorado] and stayed overnight in Denver. And then we left Denver and came, came into L.A. the next day. But what, what happened was a, a, a, a, a crazy story happened because the night before I left to come to L.A. [Los Angeles, California], I played in a club with another friend of mine. His name is Jasper Thomas. Jasper used to be the drummer for Chuck Berry. So, so, but, but both of us were hitting the sauce at the time. And so we, we, we, we played, and, and, and when we finished the job that night, I know I was going to be going out to California the next day. So what happened is I had my guitar and my amp, and instead of--he, he packed his drums in the, in the trunk. Usually, I would have put my guitar and amp in the trunk of the car, but I put 'em in the backseat. And drinking, I, I didn't think about it. And so on the way home we decided that we was gon' stop and get some barbecue. So we stopped, and when we stopped somebody broke in the car and stole my amp and the, and, and, and my guitar that I was taking to California, 'cause that was gon' be my working tools. And so, what happened was, I came out of the barbecue place, and they got me home. And I opened the trunk, and I said hey, man, my guitar and my amp's not in (laughter)--so, it was, it was, in, it was in the car that we figured out, so. Anyway, I came on out to California anyway. But once I came out to California without a, without a, something to work with, I knew I had to get a job, you know. So I got a job when I came out there. And then once I got a job, I, I ended up buying another guitar and an amp, so, to start, to start--see, you buying what you need to get started again. Then I started playing in some clubs, yeah.$$Okay.$$And then wasn't long after that that Lamonte and I sat down and started talking about starting a group. But I, I, at the time, I didn't wanna start a group. We talked about it. I said Mack, I said you know, I'm out here looking for a contract. I said now, if we wanna do this for a hobby, that's fine, you know. I said 'cause I like group singing. I've always done group singing. I say but if anything happened with this, with, with this audition, you know, I'm gone, you know, so.