Bachelor of Music in Education, Vandercook College Music, 1952; postgraduate, Manhattan School Music, 1964-1966; Doctor of Music, Vandercook College, 1992; doctorate (honorary), Vandercook College Music, 1993.
Among his most famous contributions to the albums of others are Eric Dolphy's 1964 Blue Note LP Out to Lunch!, Andrew Hill's Point of Departure and Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, of which critic Greil Marcus wrote (in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll), "Richard Davis provided the greatest bass ever heard on a rock album". In addition to his earlier years of singing, Richard Davis began studying the double bass in high school with his music theory and band director, Captain Walter Dyett. In 1952 Richard Davis received a BME from Vandercook College.
After college, Davis performed in dance bands. The connections he made while performing various gigs led him to meet pianist Don Shirley. In 1954 Davis and Shirley moved to New York city and performed together until 1956, when, Davis began playing with the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra.
In 1957, Davis became a part of Sarah Vaughan's rhythm section, touring and recording with her until 1960. The 60's proved to be a particularly busy and fruitful period for Davis. He was increasingly in demand in a wide variety of musical circles.
He worked with many of the cutting edge small jazz groups of the time including those led by Jaki Byard, Eric Dolphy, Booker Ervin, Andrew Hill and Elvin Jones. In addition to his contributions to the jazz community, Davis was also active performing with rock and popular music acts. He recorded on some of the period's greatest albums including Laura Nyro's Smile, Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run and Van Morrison's Astral Weeks.
A long-time educator, Davis' former students include William Parker and Karl E. H. Seigfried. After living in New York City for 23 years, he moved to Wisconsin in 1977, where he has been a professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison ever since, teaching bass, jazz history and improvisation. Davis is a recipient of the 2014 NEA Jazz Masters award.
Member International Composers Society, International Society Bassists, International Platform Association, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (Special Popular award 1979-1983, 84-85), National Association Jazz Educators, National Academy Recording Arts and Sciences, National Endowment of the Arts (grantee 1982-1983, 83-84), National String Artists, Screen Actors Guild, American Jazz Foundation, Kappa Kappa Psi.
Children: Persia, Joshua.