Kimberly Davis, the story of a girl from Brooklyn whose journey through music led her to become the lead singer in the most famous disco band there has ever been: CHIC.
With classics such as ‘Le Freak’ and ‘Everybody Dance’ ready to perform to the world, we got a chance to catch up with Kim before she embarks on CHIC’s UK tour this August.
As Kim joined the Zoom call from sunny New York, I was instantly greeted by a smile and energy as infectious as CHIC’S ‘Good Times’ groove, behind her, an incredible array of shoes covering her apartment walls.
James: Wow that’s a lot of shoes Kim!
Kim: Haha! Oh yes! It’s something of an obsession!
J: Have you decided which ones you’ll be bringing with you on tour?
K: Oh yes! But you’ll have to wait and see!
J: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us! It seems like not long ago I was a student interviewing Nile Rodgers for our student TV show, so it’s fantastic to meet one of the other immense talents of CHIC.
Where do I start? You’re just about to go on tour, and over the years you’ve played with some absolute legends of music. I’m interested to know where it all began for you.
K: Well, my mother was musical, she was a singer. My father was a musician so there was always music around the house, whether it was auntie playing disco or grandma playing gospel. I would sit in front of the TV and sing the commercials or the theme songs to shows.
J: Do you remember the point in which you decided: “This is what I wanna do with my life,“?
K: I was always in the church choir and even sang at family reunions. My mom took me to see the movie ‘Fame’ about the NY School of Performing Arts. I remember seeing the students dancing on tables and singing in the hallway, and I thought, “There’s no way I’m not going to that school.” I went for four years and that taught me everything I needed to know.
J: For a lot of young people starting out the way you did, the music industry seems massive. Do you feel as if you’ve always had the confidence to tackle that, or was that something you had to learn also?
K: I had a lot of insecurities when I was younger, especially going from junior high to high school. I said to my music teacher when auditioning for high school, “I don’t know if I want to go because I’m not going to stand out anymore. I’m not gonna be the girl that can sing anymore, I’ll just be part of the crowd.”
K: She just said, “Are you insane?! You’re gonna learn from everyone there… the students, the teachers!” And that’s just what I did. Once I got past that fear of I’m not gonna be the stand-out singer, it was all a learning process. You never want to get too cocky. My last words when speaking to singers are always, “Be fierce, but stay humble.”
I wanted to ask Kim a bit about how she managed to raise her son for 17 years, all whilst working a full-time job and singing on the side. Surely there is no better role model for young musicians trying to make it today.
J: Something I think frightens a lot of young musicians today is this feeling that if they don’t ‘make it’ whilst they’re young, they might ‘miss the boat.’ But of course, you went away from the limelight for 17 years to raise your son before landing the lead role in CHIC.
K: I think everyone is always afraid of that, it’s bad that it’s something society has made us think. But I mean, think of all the actors that didn’t make it until they were in their forties. You’re never supposed to stop pursuing your passion. Your passion is what keeps you alive, it’s what keeps you going, so you can never give up and think, “Oh, I’m past my prime.” Says who?!
J: And surely taking a break from your music career must have come with a lot of life lessons, too?
K: Well, I never stopped singing. I had a full-time job but my hours were from 12 pm – 8 am. I would get up, take care of my son, go to work, sing during the daytime and then back to work again. Every day I was still doing something: an open mic night, a wedding… Now that my kids are grown up, I get to travel and do what I wanna do. Even though you may take a break, you never truly stop.
J: During that time, did you ever anticipate that in a few years time you’d be singing all over the world with one of the biggest bands ever?
K: (laughing) Absolutely not. I was a child when [CHIC] dropped most of their music, so I was singing along to all the classics growing up. Ralph, the band’s drummer and a good friend of mine, called me one day and was like, “What are you doing?” I said, “Dude I’m at work, what do you mean what am I doing?” And so he says, “You need to get down here right now, they’re auditioning.”
K: In the same day, I left work to go to the audition, got the gig and came back to my job to quit at lunch!
J: What was it like the first time rehearsing with Nile and the band? Was there a moment when you realised ‘Holy sh*t, I’m the lead singer in CHIC?
K: Well the guys in the band would tell me all the time, “You raised the bar for what we’re doing.” Initially, Nile wanted to stop doing CHIC. He was so depressed and sick about the band that he just wanted to stop doing it. They all just weren’t happy, so they said to Nile, “You don’t give up playing, you just switch up the band.” And so that’s what he did.
K: He switched up the band and now we’re family for real. We laugh together, we cry together, we live with each other more than our own families. So you know, we are family.
J: Do you think you joining the band installed a lot of confidence in Nile then?
K: Oh yeah, totally. He’s excited about getting back out there, and it’s gotta be a good thing because now we’re coming back out and people have been waiting. You know, this kind of music is infectious. Every gig is like a dance party. There are no dull moments, and that’s what we look forward to. I love the fact that kids 5 years old are singing “We Are Family.” That means someone passed down to them the songs just as my parents did to me.
J: What’s been some of the most memorable gigs for you?
K: The most prominent one I would definitely say is Glastonbury. That was awesome. I remember Barry Gibb playing “Staying Alive” and everyone, even the security, broke out into a flash mob. Dubai was amazing and playing the Sydney Opera House was incredible.
K: Just travelling the continents with Nile is crazy. But I’m just helping him live his best life. When I sing “Get Lucky” he gives me this intro about how he almost died from cancer, and now he feels like the luckiest man alive. So I’m just helping him to relay his story and that’s all I need.
J: So I suppose you must feel like you’ve gotten to Nile pretty well?
K: Oh yes, he calls me his little sister. We did a song together and he didn’t hesitate to play on it. I said to him, “I have this song coming out and I feel like I hear you already on it.” I sent him the stems, he did the song and it went to number one. He’s just the best boss really.
J: Is there any advice you’ve always kept or maybe told your son in pursuing his own dreams? Is there anything you would say to your young self as a girl in Brooklyn?
K: It’s basically just: do not give up your passion. That’s just the bottom line. If you give up your passion, you literally die on the inside. If you’re someone that likes drawing and you can’t find a pencil or paper and that stops you, it’s not your real passion. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you should never stop. And again, be humble, that’s how you keep getting your blessings.
J: And in fact you started your own singing academy this year, why was that so important to you?
K: I’ve been trying to do it for so long, people have been asking me to give them lessons ever since I hosted open mic nights. I’ve never had a chance to do it, but this whole pandemic has given me the time to do that. I’m teaching these young people because I love it! Zoom is such a beautiful thing because it means I have students from all over the world.
J: It’s always a tricky decision for a lot of young people pursuing music. Whether or not ‘music school’ is the right thing for them, or whether it actually makes a difference at all.
K: Absolutely, I suppose the difference is that I don’t give out degrees, but I can help people at a more personal level. If there’s a student who has trouble hitting low notes, I can show them exercises that will help them. I can also put a student in front of people with a real status in the music industry or get them to open up for us.
J: That sounds incredible, and we’ll be keeping our ears close to the talent that you work with. Thanks so much for talking with us, and hopefully we’ll catch you when you come to London!
K: Absolutely, thanks hon!