Katherine Davis is her own woman! Singer, songwriter, actress, and teacher, her life is imbued with music. Whether she is portraying Bessie Smith or Ma Rainey on stage, appearing with piano accompaniment at a nightclub, fronting a large band, or singing for the Lord, Katherine steers her own course. Her command of various musical styles is saturated in blue. Katherine's unique musical approach was nurtured within her circle of family and close friends.
Her Mother was from a family of jazz performers and opera singers! She loved to sing, and wanted to be a professional vocalist, but she dedicated her life to her family. Katherine remembers hearing her Mom's side of the family talking about her Grandfather, Earl Campbell, performing with Louis Armstrong and Count Basie.
Katherine's father's side of the family gave house parties all the time. The only live entertainment would be the children. If a child sang or danced, family and friends would throw money at her or his feet.
She was raised on the music of Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey, Nancy Wilson, Dinah Washington, Brook Benton, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Mahalia Jackson, Etta James, and Aretha Franklin. The music was enticing, and the glamour of the female performers was fascinating to Katherine. She decided at a young age that she wanted to combine her talent for singing, with the glittering world of show business. Although she could get "down and dirty" with the best of them (at age 13, she was chastised by her church choir director for sounding too "bluesy", and asked to lower her voice) Katherine was also inspired by her exposure to the opera singers in her family.
She studied opera at the Sherwood Conservatory of Music, under the direction of Maria D' Albert. In studying opera, Katherine was laying the groundwork for the diversity that would come to make up her all-encompassing musical style. Raised in Chicago's infamous Cabrini-Green housing project on Chicago's north side, Katherine and her family moved to the south side in 1967. The move proved a good one for Katherine, as it provided exposure to the jazz and blues clubs. Within the jazz scene, there was a subscene, where singers and musicians would perform for stage productions. A friend suggested that she audition for an acting part in a play produced by Kuumba Theatre, and Katherine got the part. She went on to play Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith to critical acclaim, in Kuumba Theatre's production of "In the Heart of the Blues". Acting at Kuumba helped launch Katherine's professional career. She made a number of valuable contacts and was soon singing in both jazz and blues clubs, festivals and concerts throughout the U.S., Canada, Japan, Europe, the Caribbean and Venezuela. Her appearance with the Blues in the Schools children at the 1997 Chicago Blues Festival, led to an ongoing involvement as an instructor in the valuable "Blues in the Schools" program, alongside harmonica man Billy Branch.
Katherine's voice is a remarkable instrument! She can go from sweet and sultry to lowdown and dirty within the course of an evening. She can phrase like Billie Holiday, scat like Ella, and growl like Howlin' Wolf. Her tone can be as rough as Ma Rainey, or as sweet as Dinah Washington. Underlying it all, is her genuine feeling behind every song, that is the corner-stone of the blues. It is no wonder that her first CD, Dream Shoes, on Chicago's Southport Records and her own label Katy 'D' Records, has met with rave reviews, helping Katherine to carve out a niche for herself in the competitive musical scene.
The title Dream Shoes was inspired by Katherine's Mother and the CD is dedicated to her. Katherine "walks in her Mother's dream shoes". Ethel, her Mother, always talked about being a travelling professional singer. She didn't realize that her daughter was dreaming just like mama. Much like her live shows, the CD evokes a collection of moods, as Katherine takes us on an historical tour of African American musical forms. She can be saucy one minute, as in "Press My Button", and wistful the next, with "Try a Little Tenderness". Her rendition of Duke Ellington's "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart", is reminiscent of the best of Billie Holiday inspired vocals. Katherine is accompanied throughout Dream Shoes by some of Chicago's top jazz and blues musicians, such as piano players Erwin HeIfer and Joe Johnson, bassists Nate Stuart, Tatsu Aoki, John Whitfield and Cecile Savage, saxophonist Will Sims, and Isaac Redd Holt, Phil Thomas and Casey Jones on drums. John Barrett of Jazz USA wrote of the CD: "While apparently simple, this album speaks volumes - that's true of the best music, and the best dreams." Noted Chicago Tribune critic Dan Kening, also had good things to say. "If there's any justice in this world, the delicious melange of vintage blues and jazz on Dream Shoes will raise the profile of veteran Chicago singer Katherine Davis as a recording artist."
Midway through the millennium, Katherine continues to perform at clubs and concert venues at home in Chicago, and around the world. In January 2000, she was chosen to accompany Mayor Richard J. Daley to help represent the city of Chicago at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. She performed there at the diplomatic reception. In the late 1980s her visage was immortalized on a 16-foot tall billboard, that adorned the corner of Ohio and Orleans, advertising the renowned nightclub Blue Chicago.
Defying musical stereotypes, Katherine Davis has, with talent, enthusiasm and quiet intensity, reinvented an important era in American music, with grace and style that is uniquely her own.