Diary of an Ex-Soul Train Dancer: Q&A with Former Soul Train Dancer Patricia Davis

Patricia Davis is one of the original members of the Soul Train Gang who danced on the show from nearly its very beginning. A dance icon as well as a fashion icon, she was noted for her 1940s-style outfits and the flowers and butterfly hair pieces she wore in her hair which earned her the nickname “Madame Butterfly.” She was featured in numerous issues of Right On! magazine, had her own monthly column in Rock & Soul magazine, and made an appearance on the television show “The Dating Game”. She also appeared in plays and on TV specials on major networks, had an autobiography written about her and was voted “Soul Train’s Original All Time Diva” at the first annual Soul Train Gang reunion. Indeed, her popularity during and after her time as a Soul Train dancer was unprecedented.

Soul Train: Welcome to Soultrain.com Ms. Davis and thank you for giving us this exclusive interview with you. First off, let me ask you where are you originally from?

Patricia Davis: I was born in Fort Worth, Texas. My family and I left Fort Worth when I was five and we moved to Los Angeles.

Soul Train: What inspired you to want to be in show business or to have a career in dance?

Patricia Davis: I really didn’t think about a career in show business at the time. I was too young. I just loved to dance and wanted to dance. It was all about dancing for me.

Soul Train: Aside from wanting to dance, what were your other interests as a little girl? Were you a good student in school?

Patricia Davis: (Laughs) Any subject that dealt with the arts or music I got good grades. But subjects like spelling and reading, I got C’s and D’s.

Soul Train: So did your love of dancing begin when you and your family moved to Los Angeles or did it begin in Fort Worth, Texas?

Patricia Davis: It began in Texas. I always just loved dancing when I was a little girl. My aunt Mildred had a cafe in Fort Worth and her customers always wanted to see me dance. So someone would play a tune on the jukebox and I would start to dance and people would give me 10 cents and I would use the money to buy candy. After me and my family moved to Los Angeles, there was a store in our neighborhood called Minnie’s. One day, me and my friend Katie were there and saw another little girl dancing and the customers gave her money for her dancing talent. My friend Katie told me that I could outdance that girl but at the time I was too shy to show I could dance. So the next day Katie told Minnie (the owner of the store) that I could dance. Minnie asked me if I could dance and I said yes. My friend Katy, acting as if she was my manager (laughs), told Minnie that I would dance if she gave me some Kit-Kats. So I danced and the patrons of the store watched and were amazed and I got not only candy but money. I remember one day my dad came to Minnie’s to pick me up and I was sweaty and I had a bag of candy and money. He had no idea at the time that I was sweaty from all the dancing I was doing in the store. (Laughs)

Soul Train: There were several clubs in Los Angeles that the Soul Train Gang would hang out and dance, right?

Patricia Davis: Oh yes, there was the Citadel, Maverick’s Flat and some others. My mom, who was very strict, would let me go to these clubs because there were no drugs there, no smoking allowed, no consumption of alcohol and no guys trying to pick girls up. Those clubs were just strictly environments for dancing. It was all about dancing and having a good time. No fighting, no guns, no violence. Young people these days lost that sense of innocence.

Soul Train: This leads me to my next question, how did you become a Soul Train dancer?

Patricia Davis: One day a block party was given on the street I used to live. Mrs. Alcott, an African dancer, got some of the kids in the neighborhood, about six of us, and we did an African dance routine. Another woman in the neighborhood knew Pam Brown, who was the dance coordinator of Soul Train at the time. She told Pam about this little girl who could really dance and Pam was interested in me coming to a new television dance show called Soul Train. So the woman asked my mother if she could give her number to Pam. Pam called her and I went to audition for the show, I passed the audition and became a Soul Train dancer. However, there was an age limit to being a dancer on the show and I was younger so I lied. (Laughs)

Soul Train: What were your impressions when you first went on the set of Soul Train?

Patricia Davis: People really dressed their best. Afros, suits, hot pants, everyone moving to the music. We all had fun. There was competition, but it was all in fun. During breaks, we told jokes and laughed and would practice dance routines.

Soul Train: Speaking of competition, you and another popular Soul Train dancer, Damita Jo Freeman, were in a Soul Train dance contest in which the Godfather of Soul James Brown was a judge and Damita won. What was your reaction to that?

Patricia Davis: I wasn’t angry. No one was angry. It was friendly competition. People was pulling for Damita and she deserved to win.

Soul Train: What are your early memories of Don Cornelius?

Patricia Davis: Don would be dressed in all of these leather outfits. Me and the other dancers thought he was the hottest thing alive.We were all impressed with him. He had all of his clothes made. We all would wonder what he was going to wear to each taping.

Soul Train: Several of the dancers danced on “American Bandstand” at the same time they danced on Soul Train. Were there any repercussions from dancing on both shows?

Patricia Davis: Don didn’t like it. He would say,”I saw you dancing on ‘Bandstand’,” but we weren’t banned from Soul Train. Many of us danced on ‘Bandstand’ including myself, Joe Chism, Damita Jo Freeman, Tyrone Proctor and Sharon Hill. In fact, Tyrone and Sharon won a dance contest on ‘Bandstand’.

Soul Train: What stands out among your memories of dancing on “American Bandstand”?

Patricia Davis: I remember most of the white kids did not want to drink any of the cans of soda because they didn’t want their faces to break out. But us black kids didn’t care about that!

Soul Train: You were very influential on the show when it came to hairstyles and fashions. A lot of your fans remember you would wear flowers in your hair. What was the inspiration for that?

Patricia Davis: That came about when Diana Ross did the movie “Lady Sings the Blues” when Diana, as BIllie Holiday, wore flowers in her hair as Billie Holiday did. I loved that so I would come to the Soul Train tapings wearing flowers in my hair then soon some of the other girls started wearing flowers in their hair. Then I started wearing butterfly ornaments in my hair and got the nickname “Madame Butterfly” because of it. I wasn’t trying to start any trends. I was just being me. I loved wearing flowers and butterflies in my hair and it just caught on.

Soul Train: You were also a trendsetter with the 40s fashions you wore on Soul Train. How did that come about?

Patricia Davis: At the time the Pointer Sisters were popular and they were into wearing the fashions from the 1940s and I loved their style. So I went to second hand stores buying old skirts and dresses from that era and wore my grandmother’s shoes. Again, I just loved the 40s fashions and was not trying to start any trends. I was just being me. I wore the clothes, but I didn’t let the clothes wear me.

Soul Train: On one Soul Train taping you wore an elaborate 40s style blue dress which you made, correct?

Patricia Davis: Yes, I made that dress myself and wore it to the show. I had put that dress in a trunk to save it but years later I opened the trunk and the moths got to it and it had faded to purple (laughs).

Soul Train: You and several of the other dancers became friends with a lot of the guest stars that came to the show, right?

Patricia Davis: Yes. James Brown for example. He was such a great down to earth man. He would even eat fried chicken with the Soul Train Gang after tapings. I remember one time he brought one of his daughters to the show and he told her to go to “Auntie Pat” and she can show you how to dance.

Soul Train: You even wiped the sweat off of Marvin Gaye’s forehead when he sang “Let’s Get It On” on Soul Train. Did you keep that tissue as a souvenir? (Laughs)

Patricia Davis: (Laughs). That was fun! Back then we were able to speak to and interact with the guest stars.

Soul Train: Do you have any personal favorite memory of an artist that performed on Soul Train.

Patricia Davis: Yes, when Tina Turner performed on the show.

Soul Train: You were also good friends with Michael Jackson and the Jackson family, correct?

Patricia Davis: Yes. The first time they came to Soul Train, they invited me and Gary Keys (another popular Soul Train dancer) to their dressing room because they loved our dancing on the show. After that, they invited Gary and me to their house and we taught them things like the Robot, locking steps and certain neck movements. We would even go to the movies with them, but they had to wear disguises so that no one would recognize them.

Soul Train: What are some of your memories from that time with Michael Jackson?

Patricia Davis: I remember one time I was at his house and we had just finished dancing and we went outside and I playfully grabbed Michael and we were playing and running back and forth between parked cars in the Jacksons driveway. Suddenly, a big mafia type guy grabbed me and said, “Don’t hurt him (Michael), he’s worth a lot of money. Be careful of how you are playing.” I didn’t know who that man was, whether he was a security guard or someone doing business with Joe Jackson (Michael’s father).

Soul Train: Michael has said in interviews that he was sad and shy during his adolescence. Did you witness any of that during the times you spent with him?

Patricia Davis: Yes, I got a sense of his shyness. I understood Michael so much. He just wanted to dance and perform. But when he came off the stage, he was introverted. It was hard to get away from the camera and the stage. I was the same way. On the set of Soul Train, when the cameras were off, I ran away from them because I was very shy.
But Michael could be a prankster also. Once, when Lisa Jones (another Soul Train dancer) and I were at his house, he asked Lisa, “Do you want some potato chips?” Lisa said, “Yeah, I like potato chips!” So Michael gave Lisa the bag of chips and she reached into the bag and there was a snake in it! (Laughs)

Soul Train: (Laughs) So you also got to see Michael’s playful side?

Patricia Davis: Yes. I even had a nickname for him. Dodo Bird! (Laughs)

Soul Train: The death of Michael Jackson a couple of years ago was shocking and a huge loss. Since he was a friend of yours, I know that it must have been especially painful.

Patricia Davis: Oh yes. Michael’s death was very sad.

Soul Train: The popularity of Soul Train opened up many doors for the Soul Train Gang, one being that several of you were able to go out on the road as part of The Soul Train Tour.

Patricia Davis: Yes. The dancers that went on the tour included me, Freddie Maxie, Connie Blatino, Lynn Pickens, James Foster, Gary Keys, Don Campbell and Tyrone Proctor. We would open the shows and do our dance routines before the groups that were part of the tour, such as the Whispers and the Sylvers, came out to perform.

Soul Train: That must have been exciting and a big opportunity for the dancers to showcase their talent. What was it like being a part of that tour?

Patricia Davis: It was so much fun. We performed at places like the Apollo Theater in New York City and other big venues. We even opened concerts for James Brown. But it wasn’t always fun. One time, me and Don Campbell had a big argument about something and I cried. Gary Keys jumped up with a knife and came to my defense. Gary called his mom about the incident. Soon, Gary’s mom called Don Cornelius and told him if the dancers didn’t have the right supervision, she was going to get the law on him and then she hung up. Don then had a meeting with us and told me that if my mother didn’t stop getting involved, I was going to be put off of the tour. Don had no idea that it was not my mom that called him, but it was Gary’s mom. She didn’t identify herself to Don when she called. It was unfair for Gary’s mom to do that.

Soul Train: Being that the Soul Train Gang were like a family, sometimes family don’t always get along and problems can occur. Were there any situations that caused tension among any of you?

Patricia Davis: There was one time James Phillips and Sharon Hill played a big prank on me. A lady called me and told me that James and Sharon were in a terrible car accident and she didn’t know if they were going to live. I started to cry with vexation.They are like family to me. All of a sudden, I hear James and Sharon in the background busting out laughing. I was so hurt and angry I hung up on them. They called back but my mother answered the phone and tore into both of them. The woman that made the call was the sister of Whispers member Leavell Degree. I was so angry with them. That was horrible.

Soul Train: Being that I was a dancer on the show, I know all too well about the animosity and jealousy that being well known and recognizable can bring. Did you ever experience any jealousy while you were on the show?

Patricia Davis: Yes. People often thought I was stuck up but I was just really very shy. There was one situation on the show where this girl, Doris, a short loud girl, would pick at me. At one taping, my flower fell out of my hair and Doris picked it up and it put it in her mouth and she started dancing around with it. I asked for my flower back but the girl said, “Say please.” So I asked, “Please may I have my flower back?” and Doris said, “No.” I wasn’t looking for any trouble so I went to sit on the bleachers with my parents, who attended that day’s taping. My back was turned and Doris came up to me and poked me in the back and said, “You want your flower back?” I didn’t answer. Doris kind of pushed me or punched me in the back again even harder and asked, “I said did you want your flower back?” I turned around and swung a punch at her and somehow both of us came off of the bleachers and wound up on the floor! After that ass whooping, she or no one ever bothered me again.

Soul Train: Wow! That must have been a terrible experience for you. What did Don Cornelius say about this?

Patricia Davis: Don wanted to know who won the fight! (Laughs).

Soul Train: The Soul Train Gang was so famous that celebrities wanted several of you to be a part of their act such as Diana Ross. How did that come about?

Patricia Davis: Diana had picked me, Little Joe Chism, Damita Jo Freeman, Eddie Cole and Wanda Fuller to be a part of her show in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. However, someone associated with the show didn’t want me to be in it because she felt I was too short. This person fought against me being in it and wanted another female dancer named LaQuinta Gross to be in the act. Diana figured that it was jealousy so she insisted that I remain in the show.

Soul Train: What was that experience like working with and being with Diana?

Patricia Davis: Diana was my idol. I remember one time I had bought some slippers of various colors. Diana saw the slippers and admired them and asked where I got them from. I told her from Woolworth’s. So she gave me the money to go to Woolworth’s and buy those “cheap shoes.” (Laughs) I remember another time she invited us to her home in Lake Tahoe for a barbecue. While we were there we decided to ride a boat out in the water by her house and we were riding the waves. She was so angry at us and she yelled at us to “get your asses out of there” and she scolded us! (Laughs).

Soul Train: Several of you had also performed with Aretha Franklin as well, right?

Patricia Davis: Right. Aretha’s brother, Cecil, called me personally. He said he had been trying to get my number for a long time. The same person who wanted me off of Diana Ross’s Las Vegas act was also the same person who promised to give Cecil my number but never gave it to him. But he finally got in touch with me and told me that Aretha wanted me to be in her shows at Carnegie Hall and Radio City Music Hall in New York. That was such a wonderful experience. We even got to hang out at Aretha’s home in New York.

Soul Train: You and some of the other dancers, Perry Brown, Bert Woods (a choreographer), James Foster, Eddie Cole, Wanda Fuller and Damita Jo Freeman had formed a dance group called Something Special while all of you were still dancing on Soul Train (Freeman later left the group to pursue other avenues of show business). You got a chance to travel on the road with some big name stars. How did this happen?

Patricia Davis: We had a manager, Daniel Ben AV, who knew the manager of Tom Jones, and so we traveled and performed as part of Tom Jones act in New York and other places.

Soul Train: It was during this time that you and the other members of Something Special left Soul Train. Was it hard for you to leave Soul Train?

Patricia Davis: No not really because by that time we were traveling so much. I told Don Cornelius we were traveling a lot and Dick Griffey even told him also. So Don understood. In fact, Dick wanted me to be in the group he was forming called Shalamar but I had commitments with Something Special. So that’s when Jody Watley became a part of that group.

Soul Train: Tell me about your days of being a part of Something Special?

Patricia Davis: We traveled all over the world! We had the opportunity to perform with Tom Jones, Natalie Cole, Rufus & Chaka Khan, the Pointer Sisters and others. We sang and would do various dance routines. I remember one time when we were at a club with a popular group we were working with and one of its members had a bad drug problem. People thought I looked like one of this group’s members so a guy handed me a joint thinking I was the member of that popular group.

Soul Train: During that time you also had the opportunity to appear in a movie called “Disco 9000″. How did that come about?

Patricia Davis: I got a call that the producers of the film wanted me to do a scene in this film in which I would jump out of a cake and do a dance routine to Johnnie Taylor’s “Disco Lady.” So I agreed and I did the routine. It was a lot of fun doing that.

Soul Train: Why did Something Special break up?

Patricia Davis: One of the members of the group had an alcohol problem and was missing shows. Also, some of the members were fighting a lot. So Something Special disbanded after that.

Soul Train: When did you decide to move to Austria?

Patricia Davis: In the early eighties, a lady named Catherine Miller called me and said there is a promoter in Austria who wants a male breakdancer who can sing and asked if she knew anybody who fit that criteria. I said yes. Now James was a breakdancer, but he didn’t sing. Perry could sing but he wasn’t a breakdancer. If James could sing, he would’ve been my first choice. I had told Eddie about this opportunity and he was excited about it. I told him he would be based in Vienna, Austria for a while and I gave him Catherine’s number so they could talk. About five hours later, Catherine called again and asked if I was interested in doing choreography for the background dancers of a singer named Bilgarie. I was very interested and said yes, but she told me I would have to leave the next day. So that was the beginning of it.

Soul Train: You and Eddie were even a singing duet at one time, right?

Patricia Davis: Yes. We were a duet who called ourselves Essence. We were a duo for a long, long time.

Soul Train: What are you currently doing these days?

Patricia Davis: On June 12, 2007 I got married to Karl Bachmayer, a doctor, who is a wonderful and great husband. I also sing with a gospel group, I dance and I teach dance classes. I also had released some CDs. My first CD was Mamarena. My second CD was Choose Your Future.

Soul Train: You have a new single out now, correct?

Patricia Davis: Yes, it’s called “I Wanna” and it is by Chris T. featuring me and it can be downloaded via iTunes.

Soul Train: You have a special message to young women you would like to share, right?

Patricia Davis: Absolutely. Women need to get back to pure beauty and class. We as women need to get back to that and get away from T & A. Be beautiful and sexy, but have class with it. We need to get back to having class. A lot of women have lost respect for themselves.

Soul Train: Do you have one fond, unique special memory about Soul Train?

Patricia Davis: I remember that some of us got some special outfits from a Soul Train line of clothing. I was given a red skirt and a red top, which I loved and I was given a lot of products from Ultra Sheen. That smell of Ultra Sheen reminds me of a moment of happiness, when my mother was alive. It gives me a special feeling.

Soul Train: In 1997, Joe Chism put together the very first Soul Train Gang reunion. I had the pleasure of being there and meeting you and other members of the Soul Train Gang, many of whom you haven’t seen in years. What was that like for you?

Patricia Davis: I saw brothers and sisters. When I saw them, I remembered how we danced together, fought together and laughed together. Who can do that other than brothers and sisters? We had Don Cornelius, who was like a father figure. He molded us in the same way as if we were his own family. He did what he was supposed to do. Don doesn’t owe us anything. He gave us the exposure and some of us need to stop complaining and take the pacifiers out of our mouths and walk.

Soul Train: Do you have any advice or anything you want to share with your fans and readers of soultrain.com?

Patricia Davis: Down the road of life there’s hate, there’s lots of jealousy and then there’s love and there are dreams you must follow. When you allow humans to stop you because of their jealousy, when you allow them to break you because of their negativity, when you believe all of the negative things they say, you lost a lot. There is a God. Believe Him, not man. Hold your head high, be strong, stand against them. Nothing can hurt you.

– Stephen McMillian

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In addition to being a dancer/performer, Stephen McMillian is also an up and coming actor and filmmaker.

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