Wanda Davis came up in the gospel community and started dipping her toes into the burgeoning funk and soul scene in the Twin Cities by sitting in with bands like the Soul Sensations, the Project Soul Band, and Maurice McKinnies and the Blazers. Davis ended up recording the obscure Aretha Franklin cut “Save Me” as part of a one-off recording session with Project Soul. Although Wanda was quite active throughout the late ’60s and early ’70s in the Twin Cities scene, she left music behind when she moved back down to her hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, in the late ’70s.
Wanda Davis was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. She remembers how she got introduced in Music: “Well first was my mom. As a little, little toddler, and I would be sitting in the other room on the floor, and she’s singing. She’s singing. She had a beautiful voice. And she would be singing gospel music, and humming or singing while cooking or doing the dishes or ironing; whatever she was doing, she would sing. And I thought, oh, she has such a beautiful voice. I just couldn’t believe it. She just had an angelic voice. And I would listen to her. And I guess that’s where I really heard my first music, or paid attention to it, and started singing.
Wanda attended Hollywood Elementary School and was a 1967 graduate of Union High School there. She initially started singing on the front steps of her home: "My sisters and I, and I had a brother that would sing, we would do a lot of sitting and harmonizing, sitting out on the steps. We’d sing old songs, gospel or secular, and I’d lead most of it. It was fun.“
Like many other great singers who have been blessed with the Gift of singing, Wanda also sang in choirs at Union Star Baptist Church and Union Spring Baptist Church of Shreveport, Louisiana, and the Christ Temple Baptist Church of Shreveport. During her High School days at Union High School, Wanda sang with the Swing Band there and she also had the pleasure of singing with well known recording Artist Dorsey Summerfield who also attended Union High School. Though she did not have aspirations of becoming a professional singer: “Most people, that would become their goal: I want to sing. I may have thought that, maybe a couple of times, but to my knowledge, I just always sang. I started singing at funerals, and birthday parties, and anniversaries. And I guess when I did move to Minneapolis—I had no intentions then, I just liked to sing, so I would just go out and look for the live bands, go places where the live bands were, and I would just sit there and listen to them and I would want to sit in. And I’d sit in with them! I’d tell them that I sing and I want to sing with them. I liked it so much that I just wanted to do it. And I did it. I’d just kind of wiggle my way on there. I feel better when I sing. For some reason, it makes me feel good. Even when I’m doing the choir songs and I lead, it does my heart good to look out and see people rejoicing and praising God over the message that’s in the song.”
After graduating from Union High School, May of 1967 Wanda moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota where she started working for Honeywell Corporation and the Minnesota Telephone Company by day and by night frequenting the Night Clubs there. “I wanted to get out of the house. My mom had a brother there. Out of the service, that’s where he ended up, in Minneapolis. And a couple of his children were there, my cousins, but they were older. And I had a sister that had come out a couple years before I did, out of high school. She got out of the house first, and she headed to Minnesota. And then when my turn came I headed to Minnesota. I had a sister behind me, she headed to Minnesota. We did. We just went up. I said, well I’m going to go up here, check it out, visit. And stayed there almost 10 years. So it’s really where I continued to grow up.”
This would be Wanda’s first introduction and Trail Blazing contribution to the Minneapolis 'Midwest Funk' sound when she began sitting in on sets and before she knew it, she was singing with the Soul Sensations - a female vocalist group who traveled a lot with bookings at various Hotel, Clubs etc. They played regularly at Dirty Girty’s in St. Paul and Cozy Bar in Minneapolis, Minnesota owned by Jimmy Fuller. In 1970, the Soul Sensations finally ended up in the Recording Studio and it was there when she was asked by Producer Elijah McIntosh to record Aretha Franklin's version of ‘Save Me’. After recording an A & B side ‘Take Care’, those are the only two songs that Wanda can claim to recording. She sang a little while after recording before heading South again.
Wanda She now resides in Garland, Texas where she is retired, and is married to a wonderful man named Samuel Riley. Wanda often sings at Weddings, Birthday Parties, Family Reunions and certainly singing in the Church Choir currently at New Mount Zion Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. Wanda is also a proud parent of one daughter and two grandchildren as well.
Above: Wanda Davis backstage at the Cedar Cultural Center
*Liner Notes with help from Andrea Swensson, Minnesota Public Radio