A Conversation with Maria Davis
By Jameelah Yasmeen

I recently had the honor of indulging in a wonderful conversation with the legendary Maria Davis. I could not have chosen a better woman to be the first feature on the Kwon Yin Khronicles.

Known by many as the “Godmother of Hip-Hop”, Maria Davis is a Mother, Grandmother, Friend, Sister, Model, Bartender, Waitress, Party Promoter, Community Activist, and Public Health Advocate specializing in HIV and AIDS awareness.

I had one question: Who is Maria Davis?? What I found out is that her life in the music industry was merely the beginning.

Maria Davis was born in Cincinnati, Ohio before moving to NYC at the age of 2. Maria learned from her mother how to be the light!! Her mother was very social. She was known for always having friends over, hosting parties on weekends, and feeding the community.

Just like her mother, Maria had a bright personality. So much, that in high school, Maria was voted the Secretary of the Sunshine Committee. This role was natural for her as she often called to check in on people who she hadn’t seen in school for a while.

Throughout her life, Maria continued to be the sunshine!! Bringing light into the lives of many. Not only did she provide a platform for some of the most notable artists in Hip-Hop to gain recognition, but she was also able to turn a devastating, life-changing event into purpose.

After learning she was HIV positive during the height of her career, Maria became well known as a public health advocate and a community leader. She brings light to the dark lives of many people living with HIV and AIDS. Maria’s life and legacy is a true testimony that what GOD plans for you, no one can destroy.

Maria began her career in 1988. While bartending and waiting tables at The Cellar, (a popular restaurant in NYC), Maria began hosting fashion shows at popular venues like Kilimanjaro, and Clubs Essos and Terranova. Not only did she feature top-rated professional models, but she also had dope DJs and popular R&B artists perform at her shows. Artists like Alyson Williams, Vincent Henry, Audrey Wheeler, and Ntumé, just to name a few.

Maria’s natural outgoing and charismatic personality attracted music industry executives like Russell Simmons, and the late, Andre Harrell. Eventually leading to other music industry insiders attending the shows. Everyone who was anyone could be found at a Maria Davis Event.

A strong stance on not dating the men she encountered allowed Maria to maintain her dignity and keep her private life separate from her work. It was important that she be taken seriously in an industry dominated by men.

Maria Davis was also a single mother of two. We talked about what it was like raising her children at that time. A good support system allowed Maria to raise her children while she paved a path in the industry. Maria speaks of never getting over mommy guilt. “There were a lot of regrets … I’ve had to apologize to my children several times. It is our job to make sure our children are protected … protecting our children is most important … before you become a mother, make sure your mate is on the same page,” said Maria.

Her advice …” young ladies, put God and yourself first before you settle with a mate. Pay attention to the actions of love … it’s not just saying I love you. Love yourself enough to see through the foolishness. Make sure love is reciprocated. I believe a man is here to take care and protect us … make sure that the man is covering you and wants the best for you.” said Maria.

As a single mother of two, Maria needed to work. Her friend Shirley Brooks (an amazing promoter in her own right) used to host shows with R&B greats like Whitney Houston. She convinced Maria to throw events every Wednesday night. In 1994, using her skills and contacts attained while bartending, waitressing, and hosting fashion shows, Maria began hosting the legendary Mad Wednesdays open mic show at Sweet Waters venue.

It was at Mad Wednesdays open-mic show that artists like Case, Donell Jones, and Big L. got their start. She discovered artists like 50 Cent, Missy Elliott, Monica, and Brandy. It’s been said that the late great Notorious BIG, and a little-known artist by the name Jay-Z, met and began a friendship at a Mad Wednesdays event.

In 1996, Maria appeared on Jay-Z’s debut album, Reasonable Doubt. She recalls that nobody wanted to touch Jay-Z … but she knew he had something special.

Despite her success, Maria never felt overly confident. She gained her title as the Godmother of Hip-Hop because she never canceled a show. “Work hard and love what you do. If the event was packed or only had one person, the show still went on.” Maria said. Remaining consistent drove Maria’s success. “If it was just me or someone else, I still continued my shows,” Maria stated.

In 1995, during the height of her success, Maria was diagnosed with HIV. At first, she admits she was afraid and in denial. By 1998, she was diagnosed with AIDS.

After searching for someone to identify with, Maria realized there weren’t any Black women advocating for HIV. “You had your Magic Johnson, and Arthur Ash, however, no representation for Black women,” said Maria.

It was while telling her story in a book called Souls of My Sisters by Dawn Marie Daniels and Candace Sandy, that Maria was faced with a decision to tell the people in the industry that she had contracted AIDS.

According to Maria, it was ordained by God that she had hosted Mad Wednesdays because it prepared her for the work of an HIV advocate. “God knew he needed a fearless, big mouth chic to advocate for HIV.”, said Maria.

By the time Maria was diagnosed with HIV, she had already experienced the Mad Wednesdays stage “getting in front of people and speaking; so my journey in becoming a promoter was really the beginning of becoming an HIV advocate.”, Maria explained.

In 1999, Maria spent 6-½ weeks in the hospital. With no one to turn to, she entrusted her young daughter in the care of a stranger while hospitalized. She had to orchestrate the care and daily maintenance of her daughter from her hospital bed.

Her faith kept her strong. People were praying for her. Maria began speaking in churches about her HIV and AIDS status. Every time she encouraged others, she received another boost of life. She began to grow stronger. “God gave me another year … then another year … and another year. Never feel sorry for yourself because there is always another person worse off than you. You have to count your blessings every day. If you open your eyes, that’s a blessing … if you’re breathing, it’s a blessing … if you can make up your mind that you gotta get-up-out of the bed and go to the bathroom, it’s a blessing. We have to make sure that we connect on the small things in life that are so important, which is more important than the music industry. It’s more important than being the Godmother of Hip-Hop, more important than any title … life is more important than all of that.” said Maria.

Eventually, Maria tried to take a step back from the industry and promotion to focus on her health. Women like Jessica Rosenblum slowly began to step into the field of artist promoting. “Puffy (or nobody else) would give me an artist. They gave everybody to Jessica Rosenblum because she had the resources. But I had the bigger resources because they are not talking about her anymore. They are talking about Mad Wednesdays and how Mad Wednesdays changed their lives. Young girls come up to me and tell me, ‘Thank God for you, Miss Maria. Your speeches put me in another direction.’ I was like the mother … the auntie … all of that.” said Maria.

Maria said her friends wouldn’t let her sit back and feel sorry for herself. People kept me in the loop. Eventually, she went to Soul Café. Even though she was frail, Maria hosted for Shirley Brooks on Tuesdays, and Maria began a new show, Monday Night Madness, but it didn’t stick. Eventually, she went to the Sugar Bar where she brought back Mad Wednesdays.

Thanks to the development of HIV and AIDS medications, Maria is doing well. She continues to thrive and credits people like Mona Scott Young, for helping her during the pandemic. She also credits comedians Mike Epps, Mike Phillips, Bob Sumner, Talent, and Capone, for allowing her to leave the Red Donation box to help support her and contribute to the HIV and AIDS community during her challenging times.

Mad Wednesdays has returned!! She also has a few projects in development, including a book series, a documentary on women represented in the HIV and AIDS movements. She continues to bring light to the community by educating people on the COVID-19 vaccine and encouraging people to get vaccinated. Maria is also very involved in the I Am The Vote, and the Beyond The Vote Campaign. These campaigns are dedicated to promoting community involvement and activism.

For all the work she’s done in the community, Saturday, September 18, 2021, was declared by NYC Lieutenant Governor, Brian Benjamin, as Maria Davis Appreciation Day.

Also, every Monday check out her new podcast, Can’t Be Silenced. For more information visit www.cantbesilenced.org

When God has a plan, nothing can kill it! Purpose-driven women understand that God has placed them on earth to pursue HIS purpose for their lives. Maria Davis is a perfect example of this!! No matter what weapon formed against her, nothing prospered. Maria Davis considers herself a street minister.

“Show up when people need you! People don’t believe what you say, but they believe how you make them feel,” said Maria Davis.