Tyrone Davis

Tyrone Davis - Leland

Tyrone Davis, one of America’s most popular soul singers, was born on a plantation near Leland on May 4, 1938. Davis lived in Leland before moving to Chicago, where he began his career billed as “Tyrone the Wonder Boy.” From 1969 to 1988 Davis had forty-three singles on the national rhythm & blues charts, including the No. 1 hits “Can I Change My Mind,” “Turn Back the Hands of Time,” and “Turning Point.” His aunt and uncle once operated a cafe at this site.

Tyrone Davis’ appealing brand of romantic soul music was not blues in the traditional sense, but Davis was regarded by many as a significant figure in the blues world. He was especially popular with many of the same African American listeners who appreciated bluesmen such as Little Milton, Bobby Bland, and Albert King and he often starred with these and other blues artists in concerts and festivals. Davis’ songs were also staples in the repertoires of countless blues bands in the Delta, Chicago, and across the country.

Davis’ favorite singers included Bland, Brook Benton, Sam Cooke, and Little Willie John. He often sang gospel songs at home with his family and has been recalled carrying a guitar around Leland as a teenager and rehearsing by himself at Ruby’s Nite Spot. The son of William Branch and Ora Davis, he was born on the Lawrence Paxton plantation in Wilmot and attended school in Arcola until he moved with his mother, brothers, and sisters to Leland, according to his sister, Pearl Johnson. Davis later lived in Saginaw, Michigan, and Detroit, and returned to Leland before he relocated to Chicago in the late 1950s. There he worked as a valet for blues guitarist Freddie King in addition to a job at an iron castings plant where he labored alongside his friend and fellow vocalist, Otis Clay. He performed at many South and West Side clubs and taverns and recorded several 45s as “Tyrone the Wonder Boy” before his million-selling single “Can I Change My Mind” hit the charts at the end of 1968. Overnight he was catapulted onto the national rhythm & blues circuit of larger halls, theaters, and showcase nightclubs. His records consistently made the charts thereafter, outselling all of his Chicago blues and soul contemporaries, and he remained a preeminent “chitlin circuit” figure until his death in Hinsdale, Illinois, on February 9, 2005. In addition to his hit singles on Dakar, Columbia, and other labels, Davis placed twenty-eight albums on the Billboard R&B or blues charts from 1969 through 2004, with seven crossing over into the pop charts. In his later years he recorded for Jackson-based Malaco Records, and his final album, The Legendary Hall of Famer, appearedon Endzone Entertainment, a label owned by Indianola-born singer Willie Clayton, who told the Clarion-Ledger, “Nobody was better than Tyrone Davis. He had the magic. He was my idol.”

Davis, Clayton, and Otis Clay have been among the many artists who proved that the Delta was a breeding ground not just for traditional blues artists but also for soul singers. Other Delta-born vocalists who achieved fame in soul music include Major Lance, Garland Green, Mamie “Galore” Davis, Ruby Andrews, Mary Wilson of the Supremes, J. Blackfoot, and Thelma Houston (all from Washington County), in addition to Sam Cooke, Betty Everett, Jerry Butler, James Carr, and others.

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