Singers Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. are focused on the spiritual and physical health of Black Americans.
The couple — known for hits like “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” and “Up, Up and Away,” with their group, The 5th Dimension — have been married for more than 50 years. They’re lifetime advocates for health education, and disease prevention and treatment, with a special emphasis on the unique needs of the African American community.
The seven-time Grammy winners recorded their first new album in 30 years, “Blackbird: Lennon-McCartney Icons,” during the pandemic. That meant wearing masks, social distancing, and working outside as much as possible.
McCoo and Davis have been vigilant about wearing their masks and getting their vaccinations. Now they’re advocates for the Black and Latinx communities, encouraging them to get vaccinated, too. “We want to save lives,” McCoo said.
This new album, produced by Nic Mendoza, is more than music. It’s a social justice and human rights project, too. They’ve been incorporating the Beatles’ civil rights song “Blackbird” into their show for years. They realized many of the Beatles’ songs spoke to the current anger and division in the country.
“We want to encourage people to come together, because that’s what our country needs,” McCoo said. “That’s what our society needs. We need to come together.”
Davis added, “We need a healer, but not a medical healer. We need a spiritual healer.”
The album’s black and white cover art features the names of Black figures who’ve died, including Breanna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, and George Floyd.
“It was like a dedication to them, because they can’t speak for themselves,” Davis said. “For us to be able to be a voice for them and the young people protesting for their rights, and for their families’ rights and all of our rights, we felt doing something like this would be a good tribute to them and all the people that we’ve lost.”
Making health a priority
The couple, who didn’t work for a year during the pandemic, is ready to go back out on tour. Staying active and eating right are still important for McCoo, 78, and Davis, 83.
McCoo’s parents were doctors who made healthy living a priority. Both McCoo and Davis’ respective families encouraged them to eat right. It’s a message they still pass along, including to the homeless, to whom they give fresh food to as part of their ministry, Soldiers for the Second Coming.
They’re also longtime supporters of the Children’s Miracle Network, which they co-founded in 1983. The nonprofit raises funds — over $5 billion since it started — and awareness for 170 member hospitals that provide 32 million treatments each year, including to kids from the inner cities.
Back in 1999, Davis was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He had gotten checked and saw the changes in his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels. He was afraid but had surgery.
McCoo was motivated to support him. “I’m not losing my husband,” she said, noting two of her uncles died from prostate cancer
While men are afraid of losing their sexual identity with prostate cancer, Davis wants them to know that life is not over. Once he starts the conversation, other men start talking about it, too.
He openly shares his prostate cancer story, especially with Black men, who are more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than men of other races.
He advises them to be self-advocates. “Check your PSA,” he says. “Forget about all of this stigma. Forget about what people are saying. It’s not their lives. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to admit what you’re dealing with.”