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Country, Gospel Vocals, Songwriter Miss Alabama
Born: Russellville, AL
Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame
Denise Davis has led a life filled with more than enough experiences to script a movie. The singer, who has focused her musical skills on Christian music, went from singing in recording studios when she was still a teen to winning the Miss Alabama pageant and then being diagnosed with a life changing illness.
Born in Russellville, Alabama, Denise was only fifteen when she began singing in the famous music center of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, recording and learning about the music business.
"As long as I can remember breathing, I was singing," the pretty brunette recalls. "My mom, who is a piano and voice teacher, says I would stand right up there beside her in churches where she was playing and just sing my heart out. She says I was singing 'Do You Know My Jesus' before I was talking."
"Do You Know My Jesus" was a perfect choice for the young girl to sing, for as she matured and ventured out into the world, it was the fact that she knew Jesus that kept her going. After singing in the church choir and learning as much as she could about the music business in Muscle Shoals, Denise realized she needed to further hone her skills as a performer. She discovered that the talent portion of the Miss Alabama Pageant was then fifty percent of the competition, so she decided to give it a shot. At seventeen she competed in the Miss Point Mallard pageant (a Miss Alabama preliminary) and lost, but a woman came up to her that night and made a statement that changed her life.
"She told me if I would lose twenty pounds and get rid of my stringy hair, I could win the Miss Alabama competition," Denise says. "I didn't have a clue who she was but when I asked around I found out that she was the head of the Miss Alabama Pageant. I won a scholarship to a modeling school for winning the talent competition of the Miss Point Mallard pageant, so I decided I was going to give it a year and if I didn't win the Miss Alabama title, I'd go back to Muscle Shoals and get back to work on my recording career."
A year later, at the age of eighteen, Denise became the youngest girl to win the Miss Alabama contest. "I was in the top ten, but didn't really expect to win. When they called my name they literally had to come and pull me out of the line -- I just couldn't believe it," Denise says.
She went on to represent her state in the Miss America Pageant and, although she didn't win the Miss America title, Denise did perform in the Miss America USO Tour of the Orient the following summer. Afterward she went to college at the University of Alabama at Florence on full scholarship.
After a couple years Denise made the decision to continue with her music and moved to Nashville, Tennessee. Soon after she joined a rock band, toured the country and learned a lot about honky tonks and bars and the people who frequent them. "The first time I was ever in a bar was the first night I played in one," she says. "I stayed with the band for four years. I thought I had to pay my dues in Nashville and that was how you did it."
After leaving the band, Denise competed in the Wrangler Starsearch competition and won, which opened the door for her to be the opening act for folks like John Anderson, Lee Greenwood, George Jones and The Gatlin Brothers. She started writing songs and getting a few recorded. She was also recording jingles; was a regular performer on "Church Street Station" a program on The Nashville Network; co-hosted a syndicated television show; and was a vocalist for the soundtracks for the daytime dramas "Santa Barbara" and "Sunset Beach". In addition to all that, she was modeling for companies like Castner Knott department store, Drexel Heritage Furniture and Maybelline.
It was during this time that Denise began to notice she was feeling unusually tired and had some numbness in her legs. She attributed it to her hectic schedule and just kept on going. One evening while playing her piano she looked up at the sheet music to find that the sight in her left eye was gone. Realizing something was seriously wrong, she went to the optometrist the next day. There she was told that she would have to see a neurologist because the problems were not sight related. The neurologist indicated it might be multiple sclerosis, and after undergoing a series of tests, that diagnosis proved to be true.
Her sight returned after a few months and Denise settled back into her normal work schedule. She had bouts with numbness in her arms and legs but no more blindness, at least not immediately. A few years later, however, she lost the vision in both eyes and her world came to a complete stop. She became totally dependent on her friends and family, which was very difficult for an independent person like Denise. The doctors recommended she spend more time in the hospital so they could work to restore her sight as quickly as possible. At this point, they weren't even sure she would regain her sight.
In the hospital, night after night, Denise would pray for God to give her the strength she needed to face the blindness if it did turn out to be permanent. "I had anticipated having to learn to use a wheelchair because of the MS, but the thought of being left permanently blind was devastating. I didn't know what the future held, but the one thing I was sure of was that I needed to have God close to me."
Denise says that's when having a personal one-on-one relationship with the Lord became her sole desire in life. She finally said the words she believes that God had been longing for her to say: "I give up." She fell to her knees in desperation and cried out to the Father that whatever He wanted her life to be was what she wanted it to be. After several months her sight returned, along with a desire to sing Christian music. But Denise knew she would follow in that path only if it were the Lord's will.
Shortly thereafter, Denise met producer Johnny Rutenschroer, who signed her as a writer to his publishing company, Life Music Group. When he heard her demos, he asked her why she wasn't still singing. She played him some of her Christian material; he loved it and asked her if she'd like to record an album of her own songs for the Christian market. The result was her debut release, Eternally Grateful. The project garnered five chart singles at Inspirational and Praise & Worship radio. Her sophomore project, I Refuse To Be Afraid, is presently receiving airplay at radio with the project's title cut, "He Is In Control", "No Better Way" and "Pray".
Denise now finds herself performing around the country in churches and for women's conferences, where she is able to give her testimony. "I've had some really great experiences in my life but none as rewarding as singing and meeting new people," Denise says. "I sing for people of all ages and speak to many different groups. Nothing is as humbling or special as having someone tell you that a song you sang or something you've said has touched their life in some way."
Denise says that she believes God never wastes the pain. She knows where her hope comes from and she loves to share it. "I pray that like one of my songs says, I live my faith. Most of all I pray that when I meet the Lord face to face, he will say 'job well done'."