In 2018, a new street in the Darbo-Worthington Neighborhood on Madison’s east side was created in honor of the legacy of Richard Davis, a Madison jazz legend and Professor Emeritus of Bass at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he taught for nearly four decades. Now, after a fundraising effort throughout the pandemic, Davis’ former student and mentee, Wilder Deitz, has honored the man who inspired him and so many others with a commemorative plaque to accompany the street sign on Richard Davis Lane.
Deitz told Madison365 that he wanted to help preserve Davis’s legacy for generations of Madisonians to come.
“I got to know Richard Davis at the University of Wisconsin where I was a student in his Black music ensemble program,” Deitz said. “And, in fact, he helped me to found a Black music ensemble program in the local high schools here including at my alma mater, East High School and at Madison La Follette High School. And so he became not just my teacher, but my mentor, through that project, and he and I still will see each other. I still look to him for guidance, advice, and just to spend time. The idea for the plaque came from the idea for the street.”
The street was named after Davis back in April 2018 and is located between Webb Avenue and Darbo Drive on Madison’s east side.
Davis is an international performing musician and came to UW-Madison in 1977 after spending time in New York City. In 1993, he founded the Richard Davis Foundation for Young Bassists, Inc., which teaches young bassists ages 3-18. Along with being a professor, he initiated a chapter in Madison of the Institutes for the Healing of Racism, Inc. Davis has taught many students at the UW and his impact on Madison communities is honored through spreading knowledge about his life with the plaque.
“Richard Davis is a legend in the history of jazz and popular music and also in the history of Madison and the University of Wisconsin,” said Deitz. “And it was really important to us to honor somebody who was still alive and for him to be able to witness and receive that honor. And it was also important to us that that person be representative of the demographic of the neighborhood, which is a majority-Black neighborhood.
“The idea that people growing up in the neighborhood ought to be able to see heroes around them who resemble them is important,” Deitz adds. “Then we realized after the naming of the street that a lot of people in Madison don’t even know who Richard Davis is, as important as he is. The plaque was a way to remedy that. It gives people who are passing by and curious an opportunity to learn more about Richard. And they get learn about his life and legacy and music.”
As the city of Madison continues to honor Richard Davis, people are raising awareness and highlighting the stories and contributions of Black Madisonians. It is important to recognize and honor the lives of Black people in Madison who contributed to their communities.
“He’s clearly a pretty special individual who’s made something truly incredible of his life,” said Deitz. “And his work and impact on his students, and on music more generally, cannot be overstated. And I think it’s really, really important to honor that in a way that outlasts him and outlasts even his students’ immediate memory of what he’s done for them.
“The stories and the contributions of Black people in Madison are enormous and ought to be recognized,” he added. “What better way to recognize that than by offering a pretty massive, physical totem, in the heart of the city.”