Christine Peake of the Peakprgroup once again gave me a wonderful opportunity tonight. She asked me if I would like to interview an iconic woman, #FrancisDavis, Miles’s Davis’s 1st wife and Muse. There was no way I was passing up the opportunity to do this. Frances Davis is turning 88 years old next week and her life story is phenomenal.
I sat with her over dinner and we talked about her amazing career as a dancer… she was in the original cast of West Side Story on Broadway which is celebrating the 60th Anniversary. “I was the blonde Puerto Rican,” she informed me. She danced with the Benny Goodman band at the Palladium to the famous song, “Sing, Sing.” “Then I got the call from Dunham to join her company in Paris,” Frances said. So she left Benny Goodman’s band in England and went to Paris to join the famous Kathrine Dunham’s dance company which toured all over Europe.
Upon meeting Miles Davis for the first time, Frances was dancing at a nightclub on Sunset Strip called Ciro’s. The story goes that the drummer for Miles Davis’s band (Jimmy Cob, I think) told Miles, “Man, there’s a little girl in that Dunham company who could dance her ass off! You should check her out.” Miles did and immediately fell for Frances.
“I dated Miles a couple of times. I didn’t know about him. I didn’t even listen to jazz.” But he seemed smitten with the gorgeous woman and kept pursuing her. Frances said seriously, “So were other men, Hugh O’Brien, Roy Calhoun was interested in me too. George Slaughter became my Godfather because everyone was hitting on me.” She paused and said, “At that time, I wasn’t into any of these guys, I was very interested in my craft as a dancer.”
She ended up going back to Chicago with the dance troupe and Miles Davis was also gigging back there at the same time. She introduced him to her family and he asked Frances’s father for her hand in marriage. Her father said, “No.” And Frances said no too. She ended up marrying a singer with the Katherine Dunham’s dance company. However, as fate would have it, she ran into Miles Davis again on the streets of NYC after she divorced from her first husband. This time Miles made it known she wasn’t getting away from him this time. “I moved in with him because it was convenient,” Frances told me in a deadpan voice. “He had an apartment in NYC and I needed a place to live.” This was at the time Miles Davis was working on the movie score for the French Film, “Elevator to the Gallows” by Louis Malle. He left some of the music behind when he traveled to France and Frances listened to his compositions for the first time. “Prior to this, I really hadn’t heard his music at all. When I heard his music, I fell in love with him because it was so beautiful.”
These were some of the stories and fascinating tidbits of information Frances Davis told me this evening. When I was trying to sum up the 45-minute interview by asking Frances what more she wanted to say about one of the most famous men in the history of jazz… here’s what she said. “He was my Prince. He was the love of my life.”