One Rockin’Mama

Eunice Davis may not have been the first African-American, female rock and roll singer.  But, over her relatively short career, Davis, a native of Dublin, Georgia, was an early trendsetter in the transformation of blue singers into rock and roll singers.  This is her story, a story which is as remarkable as it has been obscure.

Eunice Emilie Davis was born on February 23, 1920 to Oscar Wright and his wife Gussie Lee White, who had married eleven months earlier in Laurens County, Georgia. During the year 1922, Eunice and her family moved to Glassboro, New Jersey, a central New Jersey borough dominated by glass making companies for a short while until her family moved to New York City.

Eunice believed that by working at the Apollo Theater in New York she would meet the top musical performers of the day.  And she did.

Eunice Davis worked as an usherette at the Apollo Theater, when Lester Young noticed her singing in the Newark Ballroom.  Eunice wrote many of her own lyrics and music, although it has been said that she would compose the words and the music, hum them into a tape recorder and have them put on paper by a trained composer.

“He asked me to go to the Apollo Theatre with him the next week, but I refused because I had another engagement,” Davis remembered.   Her first appearance at the Apollo Theatre’s amateur hour was unmemorable.   In a positive twist of fate, Eunice was asked by Luis Russell to join him in a rehearsal.

In the year 1951, while still an usherette at the Apollo, Eunice was signed to a contract with Coral Records and  was put on the bill with big name acts, including the Ravens, who were led by their deep bass singer Jimmy Ricks of Adrian, Georgia.   Eunice was billed as a “thrush with a good set of pipes, rocks the house with a flock of fast paced studies,” wrote a Variety magazine critic.

Davis told a writer for Jet Magazine in 1953 that when she began singing, she was still a cook and insisted on a provision in her contract that she would be allowed to cook her own meals.

“I got my start in show business after writing and recording one song, “Rock Little Daddy,”  Eunice wrote. During another artist’s recording session, Eunice recorded the song, which became a hit for Derby Records.

“It took me 15 minutes to write Rock Little Daddy, 3 hours for Phillip Rose to convince Larry Newton to record it, and 10 days for the song to become a hit back in 1951,” Eunice recalled.

Davis was again praised by a Variety wrote who said, “Rock Little Daddy represents Miss Davis at her best and ear-marks her as a singer who should click in wider bookings.” Contemporaries immediately compared her to Florence Mills, a famous cabaret-style singer of her day.

Eunice appeared with the Ravens at the Howard Theater and a return appearance at the Apollo, followed by gigs at the Flame Show Bar, the Powelton Café, the Delmar in Montreal, and the Earl Theatre in Philadelphia, appearing with the Covers and other nationally known acts.

Davis claimed that it was the iconic disc jockey, Allen Freed, proclaimed this style of music “rock and roll.”  Eunice Davis claimed that she was the first female rock and roll singer based on Freed’s comments and what others told her.  Eunice was certainly one of the first African American female rock and roll singer.

Eunice’s string of hits continued with “Go to Work Pretty Daddy”and  “Daddy Work,” And in 1953, Eunice signed a five-year contract with Atlantic Records, while continuing to write her own songs, some of which she sang and some which she to other artists.

In 1955, Eunice enjoyed continuing success with  "Get Your Enjoys" and "Let's Have a Party."

But for Eunice, fame was fleeting.

By the mid 1950's Eunice’s career as a rock and roll singer was basically over, which she blamed on the record companies not hustling her records to the disc jockeys of the day.

Soon Eunice faded into rock and roll obscurity.

In the late 1970s, Eunice moved to Phoenix, Arizona where she began a relationship with a blues guitarist, singer and harmonica player, with at least half a hundred albums to his credit.

Eunice recorded her final album in 1980, in which she sings the songs of her idols- Victoria Spivey and Memphis Minnie - along with her own compositions.

By 1983, the sixty-three-year old singer was living in a dark, non-descript home on Roosevelt Street in Phoenix.  Eunice would invite old and new friends and gladly sing upon request in her home on East Roosevelt Street in Central Phoenix, which is now a parking lot, two blocks from Interstate Highway 10.    Many of her songs were based on the old slave songs she learned as child.

Beyond her music, Eunice yearned to write poetry, turning out many poems, which he hoped she could record.

After Eunice kicked Louisiana Red out of her house, she moved to Los Angeles where she married her third husband Merv Fusch.  The Fusches established a graphic arts business.

But Eunice continued to do what she did best and that was to write and sing music and write poems about life.  When she had the chance, she performed in music festivals, some in Europe.

The music died on July 13, 1999.    Eunice’s death went virtually unnoticed.  A sad pity, in that a half century before her death, Eunice Emile Wright Davis, helped to ignite a musical genre which is still going strong today.