“I Got Everything A Man Could Want–If It Just Wasn’t For This Prejudice Crap”

Miles Davis in a 1955 photo by Tom Palumbo.

Trumpet player Miles Davis was already a legend in 1962, when he was interviewed by Alex Haley for Playboy. He was raised in a relatively well-to-do household in Illinois, the son of a dentist. His prodigious musical talent saw that through his ups and down with a vicious heroin addiction, he managed to always maintain financial security. But creature comforts could only go so far in calming the nerves of a person of color who grew up in the Jim Crow era and still lived in a racially divided America. An excerpt from the Q&A:

Playboy: You’re said to be one of the financially best-off popular musicians. Is this correct?

Miles Davis: Well, I don’t have any access to other musicians’ bankbooks. But I never have been what you would call poor. I grew up with an allowance, and I had a big newspaper route. I saved most of what I made except for buying records. But when I first left home as a musician, I used to spend all I made, and when I went on dope, I got in debt. But after I got enough sense to kick the habit, I started to make more than I needed to spend unless I was crazy or something.

Now I got a pretty good portfolio of stock investments, and I got this house–it’s worth into six figures, including everything in it. My four kids are coming up fine. When the boys get in from school, I want you to see them working out on the bags in our gym downstairs. I keep myself in shape and teach the kids how to box. They can handle themselves. Ain’t nothing better that a father can pass along.

Then I got my music, I got Frances, and my Ferrari–and our friends. I got everything a man could want–if it just wasn’t for this prejudice crap. It ain’t that I’m mad at white people, I just see what I see and I know what’s happening. I am going to speak my mind about anything that drags me about this Jim Crow scene. This whole prejudice mess is something you would feel so good if it could just be got rid of, like a big sore eating inside of your belly.”

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