The string instruments start, a familiar tune begins, and Dayna Davis is taken back to the first solo of her adult career, Etta James’ infamous “At Last.”
That song – which Davis sang at a pageant while at the University of Michigan – would set her on her current path as a professional musician.
“I kind of discovered my level of interest and what I love about performance from having to perform that particular song,” Davis said.
Now Davis can be found all around metro Detroit, performing in venues from the Bloomfield Township Public Library to Aretha’s Jazz Cafe at Music Hall. She also does performances for corporate events and restaurants. And every other Tuesday each month, she’s singing at Bert’s Marketplace in the Eastern Market district with Detroit Sings, a community organization she’s a co-partner and music instructor for.
With such a wide variety of performance spaces, Davis said that each show’s set list really depends on who she’s singing for.
“It’s typically the best of the best within those genres,” said Davis about her go-to genres, Motown and pop.
She also tries to take a more Nashville approach to her set lists, meaning she wants her songs, and dialogue in between them, to tell a story.
During certain shows she gets to tell her own story though. Davis has been writing music for the last decade, often inspired by her own life.
“Things that you survive or overcome…Those things tend to inspire me, and sometimes it’s the most random things,” Davis said.
Like one of the songs she wrote, produced, and put on iTunes, “I’m Gonna Get It.” The whole premise of the song came during a dinner with her parents, when she was updating them on her life.
“I paused for a moment and went, ‘Wait a minute, that’s a song,’” she laughed.
When you hear the story of how music went from being a hobby to a much more serious path for Davis, some would argue there’s a song in there, too.
Davis – who is trained in voice, piano, and saxophone – grew up around music thanks to her dad, Michael, a former Motown singer. She said that as soon as she was talking she was probably singing, and spent summers at Blue Lake and Interlochen to hone her skills.
But when she was at U of M – where she was studying Spanish and pre-med with hopes of becoming a surgeon and Spanish translator – is when her singing became much more than a hobby. She was quite involved with the school’s Gospel Chorale and realized she was investing more time to that than her academics.
“I had a rude awakening when I found out that music was feeding me more than what I came to college for,” said the Bloomfield Hills resident. “It just kind of grabbed ahold of me and took me down another road.”
From there, she took time off from school and worked with a music business consultant. Davis described herself as equally left-brained and right-brained, so that made learning about the business end a perfect fit.
So in 2007, she started her own label, DRD International Records, followed by a publishing company the following year. Next year, she’ll be launching DDDirectives, a business where she will be a coach/consultant/project manager for those looking to develop more within the entertainment industry. Don't worry, she plans to still write and perform.
“Those will always be loves of mine and I’ll always have a need to do it,” assured Davis.
Photo: Esme McClear