Richard Davis, a Madison jazz legend and Professor Emeritus of Bass at the University of Wisconsin where he taught from 1977 until his retirement in 2016, will be honored with a new street in the Darbo-Worthington neighborhood this year.
“He has been just an incredible teacher, mentor and influence on me,” Wilder Deitz, who studied under Davis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, tells Madison365. “He’s an amazing man and an incredible teacher.”
The naming of the street after Davis, which will be located between Webb Avenue and Darbo Drive on Madison’s east side, has been part of a long process, says Deitz, who is part of the Worthington Park Neighborhood Association. “This came up through Lisa Coleman from [City of Madison’s] engineering who is a member of the neighborhood resource team for Darbo-Worthington,” Deitz says. “She came to one of our meetings to talk about this new road and she suggested to us that the association name the road.”
The Worthington Park Neighborhood Association talked it over at their February meeting and discussed two main options for the new street name – Richard Davis and Clyde Stubblefield. “They were both excellent options. It came down to the fact that Clyde had passed and Richard was still with us and we wanted the opportunity to do something in his honor that he would be able to see,” Deitz says. “We thought it was important to have the street named after a person of color, an African American, in particular, because there is a high percentage of black people in the neighborhood and not a lot of street names and landmark names to reflect that.”
Professor Davis was the leader of the Black Music Ensemble at UW-Madison and he inspired Deitz, whose Wilder Deitz Group performs improvisational music steeped in world, hip-hop, and jazz music traditions, to start a program with the same name at East High School.
“He helped me to establish the East High School Black Music Ensemble. He was my inspiration,” Deitz says. “Richard Davis has had an amazing career and has played with some amazing people during his long career and his teaching continues and he’s an incredibly important mentor to people. I just think it’s so important that we recognize him.”
Will Green, executive director of Mentoring Positives and a huge presence in the Darbo neighborhood, agrees with that sentiment and says that he’s really excited about Richard Davis Lane.
“Music was Richard’s hook for engaging others. I had the pleasure of sitting on the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute board of directors with Richard so I was honored to share that space with him,” Green tells Madison365. “Richard used music to fight for social justice and racial harmony as a professor at UW-Madison and the larger community.
“To hear the new street that is planned for Darbo will be named after Richard is an amazing honor,” Green adds. “It’s great that he is being honored for his amazing accomplishments in the Madison community and nationally.”
As a performer, Davis has played alongside many famous artists including Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand, Janis Ian, Igor Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein, Van Morrison and Frank Sinatra. As a teacher, he has contributed immeasurably to the advancement of bass playing through his professorship at the UW and his Conference for Young Bassists, which continues to convene annually.
Davis has earned the N.A.A.C.P. W.E.B. DuBois Advocates Award in 2002, the Michael St. John Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008 and the Exceptional Service Award from UW–Madison in 2009, and he was named a 2014 “Jazz Master” by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Davis also founded the Institutes for the Healing of Racism in 2000 to raise consciousness about the history and pathology of racism and help heal racism in individuals, communities and institutions within the greater Madison area and all over the United States
To commemorate Richard Davis’ numerous contributions to Madison, to racial healing and to American music, the Worthington Park Neighborhood Association voted on February 12th to recommend that a new street proposed for the neighborhood be named Richard Davis Lane. The Madison Common Council has referred it to the Board of Public Works, who need to pass it and then it will come back to the Council for final approval on May 1.
“It is slated to break ground this summer. People should be able to see some things going on in that area around August,” Deitz says. “We’re very excited about it.”
The annual Darbo-Worthington Peace Walk and Block Party, held this year in late August, will feature a musical celebration of Davis’
work and legacy.