Trained as a classical musician at leading conservatories, Dr. Davis won early renown in the 1950s working with celebrated jazz musicians Max Roach and Dizzy Gillespie. In the 1960s, he was one of saxophonist John Coltrane's favorite bassists and appeared on several of Coltrane's recordings.
He also performed in classical orchestras and Broadway shows and accompanied a varied list of stars that included Judy Garland, Count Basie, Bob Dylan, Harry Belafonte, James Brown and Minnie Pearl.
Dr. Davis maintained for many years that he had been denied positions in leading classical orchestras because he was black. He sued the New York Philharmonic unsuccessfully in the early 1970s, claiming the orchestra discriminated against him when it failed to offer him a full-time position.
Never shy about self-promotion -- he described himself on his Web site as the world's greatest bassist" -- Dr. Davis challenged orchestras to pit him against any other bass player in a playoff. By the mid-1970s, he had drifted away from music and had become, in the words of jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal, a forgotten legend."