Obituary

John Davis, Real Milli Vanilli Vocalist, Dies at 66 of COVID-19

John Davis
Nico Schimmelpfennig/picture alliance via Getty

John Davis, singer of Milli Vanilli, at a performance in Eisenach in June 2018.

John Davis, the veteran R&B vocalist who provided the studio vocals for 1990s pop duo Milli Vanilli, has died at age 66. His daughter, Jasmin, announced the news on May 24 in a Facebook post; Jasmin Davis confirmed the news in an e-mail to Billboard on Thursday morning (May 27).

"Unfortunately my dad passed away this evening through the coronavirus. He made a lot of people happy with his laughter and smile, his happy spirit, love and especially through his music," she wrote. "He gave so much to the world! Please give him the last round of applause. We will miss him dearly."

Davis was one of more than half a dozen vocalists who provided the smooth dance pop sound of the German-French duo fronted by dancers Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan. The pair -- Pilatus died at 33 in 1998 -- were recruited by reclusive German producer Frank Farian in 1988 to front an upbeat Eurofunk band whose hits "Girl You Know It's True" and "Baby Don't Forget My Number" hit No. 1 across the globe, thrusting the formerly unknown duo into brief worldwide stardom in 1989.

Their fame -- which included a best new artist win at the 32nd annual Grammy Awards -- was, however, short lived, as it emerged that Rob and Fab were merely Farian's latest fanciful creation and not the actual vocalists. In a Grammy first, the duo's best new artist honor was revoked. Following the band's swift fall from grace, a second MV album, The Moment of Truth, credited to The Real Milli Vanilli, was released in 1991 outside the U.S. with vocals by Davis and a number of the others who actually sang for the group.

Billboard wrote an expansive oral history of the Milli Vanilli story in 2020, and though Davis declined to participate, more than a dozen of the musicians, producers and engineers who worked on the band's debut related the story of how Farian almost pulled the wool over the whole world's eyes while selling more than 10 million albums.

"Farian came back after the song hit the charts in England and said he had to have two faces for the project," vocalist Charles Shaw told Billboard about the scramble to find two frontmen after "Girl" took off in Europe. "I was already paid $12,000 for doing ['Girl'] and he said, 'Keep your mouth shut and you can do the whole album.' I’m thinking, 'That’s studio work for me.'"

Variety recently reported that MRC Non-Fiction is working on the Milli Vanilli documentary Girl You Know It's True, which will be directed by Luke Korem (Dealt) and produced by music critic-author Hanif Abdurraquib, Bradley Jackson and Fulwell 73's Richard Thompson; Billboard is part of PMRC holdings, a joint venture between PMC and MRC.

Born in Anderson, South Carolina on Aug. 31, 1954, the veteran studio musician, bass player and composer who lived in Germany before and after the Milli Vanilli scandal, went on to sing alongside Morvan in the ironically named Face Meets Voice. According to his official bio, he also backed former Animals singer Eric Burdon, Luther Vandross and Babyface over the years, and performed pop and rock songs with the Symphonic Orchestra Nuremberg and released several solo recordings.

Morvan paid tribute to Davis on Twitter, writing, "R.I.P BROTHER @JohnDavisRMV CAN’T BELIEVE IT, THANKS FOR ALL THE LOVE YOU’VE SPREAD THROUGH OUT THE YEARS, FROM THE EDGE OF THE STAGE. YOU AND I HAD A GREAT RUN, IT WAS FUN TO CELEBRATE LIFE WITH THE HELP OF MUSIC. PEACE ONE LOVE YOUR VOICE WILL LIVE ON. PLAY IT LOUD EVERYBODY."

Watch Davis with the Nuremberg Orchestra in 2013 below.