Fundraiser honors late musician, banker Don Davis

Steven Sonoras
Special to The Detroit News

Anyone who knew Don Davis will tell you he was anything but an ordinary man.

The Detroit native, who died in 2014 at age 75, was a hugely influential entrepreneur whose career straddled the music industry and the financial world. Davis started out in the late 1950s as a musician, playing guitar on sessions for Motown and Stax, including the Motown’s first hit, Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want).”

Don Davis had many talents.

Davis would later form his own record label, Groovesville, and bought Detroit’s United Sound Systems. In 1981, he became CEO and chairman of First Independence Bank, then the only African-American-owned bank in Michigan.

Davis’ life and work will be honored Thursday night with a gala fundraiser at Music Hall Center celebrating the official launch of the Don Davis Legacy Foundation, concluding the 89th annual National Bankers Association convention at the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel.

The foundation was started by Davis’ widow, Kiko Davis, in an effort to continue her husband’s achievements and provide opportunities to underserved communities through scholarships, grants and services for youth, families, businesses and organizations in Detroit.

Kiko Davis

“He helped so many people accomplish their dreams and goals,” Kiko Davis said. “He would be so proud to know that he made a mark while he was here, but also that it didn’t just die when he passed.”

The gala includes entertainment by R&B star Johnny Gill, and will be hosted by actress-producer Vivica A. Fox and actor-producer Laz Alonzo. Nearly 1,700 are expected to the event that includes a red carpet VIP reception before the program. All proceeds will benefit the Don Davis Legacy Foundation, she added.

Singer Johnny Gill, former member of New Edition, heads the entertainment lineup.

Kiko Davis said the foundation will conduct annual events to raise funds, in addition to ongoing donations from private donors and corporations, including First Independence Bank. She was unable to provide a dollar amount for the foundation’s proposed rewards to beneficiaries, but she said she plans to offer “substantial” funding for scholarships and grants to those in need in disciplines ranging from the arts to business.

Don Davis was an active member of the NBA, a trade organization for minority and women-owned banks, until his death, and he was key in improving the organization’s regulations and policies.

Current NBA president Michael Grant described Davis’ business acumen as only one of his many admirable qualities.

“As brilliant as he was, and as successful as he was, the trait that defined him was his heart,” Grant says.

“He cared about others. Not only his fellow bankers, but those in Detroit who knew him well knew that Don was always willing to help somebody.”

Steven Sonoras is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

Don Davis Legacy Foundation Gala

VIP reception at 5:30 p.m. Thurs.

Program at 7:30 p.m.

Music Hall Center

350 Madison, Detroit

Tickets $45, $250 for VIP

Tickets available at dondavislegacy.org