What do Tufts, Judi Dench, Carnegie Hall and horses all have in common? The answer: notable Tufts alumna and Renaissance woman Karen S. Davis (J ’76).
Many Tufts alumni pursue successful careers in the arts and media, but few can say they’ve studied acting with the Dame herself, performed at Carnegie Hall and published a world-renowned photography book of thoroughbred horses. Davis has accomplished all of these feats since graduating from Tufts. “A lot of the things I’ve ended up doing, I’ve fallen into out of sheer luck and passion and enjoyment and love for the subject,” said Davis.
Reminiscing about college, Davis noted that most of her experiences at Tufts were “curriculum-driven,” allowing her to graduate magna cum laude within three years with a degree in English and history.
“I think that one of the greatest decisions I made there was to do Tufts-in-London,” said Davis. “I’d always been an anglophile interested in British literature and history, and it allowed me to do both theater and English, and history and music. They covered everything there — that probably influenced a lot of what I did later.” Like many college students, Davis wasn’t certain what she wanted to do after leaving the Hill. “Because I want to do a lot of different things, I decided that’s what I’d devote my life to,” said Davis. “I mainly pursued what I loved, and allowed my passions to drive me.”
Upon graduating, Davis stayed in England and embarked on a career in journalism, talking to locals in small communities and reporting on human interest stories. After going to graduate school for journalism, Davis was offered a job as a journalist and photographer for The Times of London.
“It was exciting just to go to the press conferences in Parliament and photograph Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, which was wonderful,” said Davis. “But I missed journalism at the local level.” While she was in Europe, Davis also sang in choirs and had the chance to study acting with Judi Dench. When her career in journalism began to get too political, Davis left London to try her hand at the performing arts back in the United States.
Davis established an impressive regional reputation for her musical theater roles. She also acted in infomercials and television shows, hosted local public access television, narrated radio commercials and sang for movie soundtracks. Davis even wrote and composed her own album of love songs entitled “Someone Loves” (1999).
Like most artists trying to break into Hollywood and pursue an acting career, Davis had to work a few side jobs. “The last job I had was thoroughly miserable, and drove me back to the peace of horses at the racetrack in the morning,” said Davis.
Combining her love of horses and photography, Davis published her acclaimed photo book “Santa Anita Morning Rhapsody” (2006). As Davis’s most notable work, “Morning Rhapsody” is the only book of its kind, with beautiful photos capturing the lives of thoroughbred horses on the Santa Anita racetrack at dawn.
“It’s nice when a life is done to have something you can hold in your hands and say, ‘I am so proud for having done this,'” said Davis. “I think the photographs are very passionate, and I want to embody passion in everything I do.”
Racehorses also inspired Davis to write a screenplay and to begin one of her current projects, a symphony. “One day when I was standing next to the track and heard all of the hooves going by, which is very rhythmic and beautiful, I thought, ‘oh, there’s a symphony in this,'” Davis said.
In addition to composing her “Santa Anita Morning Rhapsody” symphony, Davis continues to photograph racetrack events and pursue her singing career. As if all of this isn’t enough to keep her busy, Davis is also writing and illustrating a children’s book on horse healthcare.
“I think most people would agree that it’s better to be busy and, particularly, to be so lucky to be so busy doing what you love,” said Davis. “I mean, how many people get to do that?”
It’s hard to keep up with Davis’ unique and incredibly diverse career since her graduation from Tufts, but Davis wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Nothing’s ever irrevocable,” said Davis. “As long as you’re doing what you love, you can do one thing and then let it segue into something else, have another career. If I’d left anything out, I wouldn’t feel complete, just because I’m who I am.”