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Real Milli Vanilli Singer John Davis Dead At Age 66

John Davis (right), onstage with former Milli Vanilli star Fabrice "Fab" Morvan, in Eisenach, Germany, in 2018.
Nico Schimmelpfennig
Getty Images
John Davis (right), onstage with former Milli Vanilli star Fabrice "Fab" Morvan, in Eisenach, Germany, in 2018.

One of the real vocalists behind the fake pop act Milli Vanilli has died. South Carolina-born singer John Davis was 66 years old and died Monday of COVID-19. His death was announced on Facebook by his daughter, Jasmin Davis.

His greatest success came as an unseen voice for the German-based R&B-pop duo Milli Vanilli, whose putative singers were Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan. The group was the brainchild of producer Frank Farian, who already had scored big success in the 1970s and 1980s with another group, Boney M, whose disco hits sold some 80 million albums worldwide.

Milli Vanilli won the Best New Artist Grammy Award in 1990 after the U.S. release of its debut album, Girl You Know It's True — which in truth featured Davis as one of the leads. The song "Girl You Know It's True" went to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and was on the chart for 78 weeks. (The song itself was a cover of a little-known single by a Baltimore-based group called Numarx.)

Davis was brought in after another American-born singer, Charles Shaw, was fired — Farian suspected that Shaw was letting the truth slip. For the American version of the single and the album, it's Davis you hear doing a soft rap.

According to Farian, Davis came to Germany in the late 1970s and worked as a studio singer and bass player. He released two albums under his own name: Joker, issued in 1980, and Still Be Loving You, recorded with Farian, in 1990.

Milli Vanilli was stripped of its Grammy after Farian, Pilatus and Morvan admitted to the hoax in 1990.

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Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.
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