Joe Davis


Joe C. Davis, Jr.

Class of 1992

Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, 1976

Vanderbilt Athletics Hall of Fame, 2017

Born June 10, 1919, Joe Davis became a tennis standout in Nashville, Tennessee as teenager. He played no. 3 in ninth grade on Central High School’s team before transferring to Montgomery Bell Academy on a scholarship in 1934. Coach and mentor John Davidson said Davis “rose like a comet” becoming the no. 1 rank on MBA’s tennis team. He earned a reputation as the “human backboard” for his baseline play. In junior and collegiate play, Davis ruled singles courts regionally and nationally winning the Mid-South Preparatory Tournament in 1935, 1936, and 1937, the National Prep School Invitation Tournament in 1936 and 1937, and the Southern Interscholastic and the Georgia Junior Championship in 1937. In 1938, Davis entered Vanderbilt University on a full tennis scholarship (freshman were not allowed to compete). On April 15, 1939, Davis played the famed Davis Cup star Bryan “Bitsy” Grant in exhibition play winning 9-7, 9-7, 6-2. In 1939, the Nashville Banner named Davis the “City’s Best Athlete.” Returning to competition later that year, Davis earned the Southeastern Conference Collegiate singles tennis championship in 1939, 1940, and 1941. He also took home the Nashville City Championship in 1939, 1940, and 1941 as well as the Tennessee State Amateur Championship in 1940 and 1941. Vanderbilt University cites Davis as “arguably the greatest tennis player that has ever played on Vanderbilt’s campus.” After graduating from Vanderbilt in 1941, Davis served as a Navy officer in World War II in the North Africa, Sicily and Normandy theaters. In 1945, Davis returned to Nashville and began a life-long career in the coal industry. In 1971, he turned most of his efforts to philanthropic pursuits through the Joe C. Davis Foundation. To date, the Foundation has awarded more than $100 million to Nashville non-profit organizations. An enthusiastic supporter of tennis, Davis served in various capacities with the Southern Tennis Association. He also contributed generously to the 1978 Davis Cup competition in Nashville, Vanderbilt University's original indoor tennis facility, and the USTA Boys 16 National Championships. Joe Davis died in Nashville, Tennessee on November 26, 1989.