The woman known for her high pitch and soulful “relationship on the mends or ends” ballads, Betty Wright, died Sunday. She was 66 years old. Her cause of death has not yet been released.
“Betty Wright” rose to fame in the 1970s with hits such as “Clean Up Woman” and “Tonight is the Night,” and later on telling women “Don’t blame Mr. Charlie, Mr. Charlie is just a man doing the best he can…..” in her hit “After the Pain.”
According to Wikipedia, born on December 21, 1953 in Miami, Florida, Bessie Regina Norris was the youngest of seven children of Rosa Akins Braddy-Wright and her second husband, McArthur Norris.
She began her professional career at the age of two when her siblings formed the gospel group, the Echoes of Joy, and contributed to vocals on the group’s first album, released in 1956. The siblings performed together until the mid-1960s.
In 1965, following the group’s break-up, the 11-year-old singer, who had already began using the name “Betty Wright,” decided to switch musical styles from gospel to rhythm and blues, singing in local talent shows until being spotted by a local Miami record label owner, who signed her to her first label (Deep City Records) in 1966 at age 12. She released the singles, “Thank You Baby” and “Paralyzed,” which found Wright local fame in Miami.
In 1967, the teen was responsible for discovering other local talents such as George and Gwen McCrae, helping them sign with the Alston Records label, part of Henry Stone’s TK recording and distribution company. “My First Time Around,” her first album, was released when she was still 14. Her first hit single was “Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do”. While still in high school in 1970, Wright released “Pure Love” at the age of 16.
About a year later, Wright released her signature song, “Clean Up Woman,” written by Clarence Reid and Willie Clarke when she was 17. The record reached number two on the R&B charts, where it stayed for eight weeks. It crossed over to the pop charts, peaking at number six and staying on the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 weeks. It eventually sold over a million copies and was certified gold on December 30, 1971, nine days after the singer turned 18. Wright struggled with a successful follow-up until 1972 when the single “Baby Sitter” (one of Wright’s first compositions) reached the top 50 of the Hot 100 and peaked at number six on the R&B charts. Another hit that emerged during this early period was 1973’s “Let Me Be Your Lovemaker,” which peaked at number 55 on the Hot 100 and number 10 on the R&B chart. It was also the first instance where Wright showed off her powerful whistle register vocals. Another successful composition was the proto-disco number, “Where Is the Love” (co-written by Wright, with producers Harry Wayne Casey and Richard Finch, from KC & The Sunshine Band). This peaked at number 15 on the R&B chart, number-two on the dance charts and crossed over to the UK, peaking at #25, leading Wright to perform overseas. Wright later won the Best R&B Song Grammy Award for composing “Where Is the Love”.
A second prominent overseas hit was another proto-disco number, “Shoorah! Shoorah!”, issued on Alston and written by Allen Toussaint. Both songs appeared on one of Wright’s most popular albums, Danger! High Voltage!, released in late 1974. It would be on this album that Wright would have her most successful composition, with the smooth soul ballad, “Tonight Is the Night”, which Wright attributed to her first sexual experiences. The original version peaked at number 28 on the R&B chart. Four years later, Wright released a “live” version of the song. The remodeled version, which included a now-famous monologue and portions of Wright’s 1970 hit, “Pure Love,” peaked at number 11 on the R&B chart in 1978.
In 1977, Wright discovered musician Peter Brown and sang background on Brown’s hits, “You Should Do It” and “Dance With Me” (where her vocals were prominently featured) from the successful LP ‘A Fantasy Love Affair (Do you wanna get funky with me?)’. In 1978, she performed a duet with shock rocker Alice Cooper on the song “No Tricks” and a year later, opened for Bob Marley on the reggae star’s Survival Tour.
In 1988, Wright made history as the first black female artist to score a gold album on her own label, when her 1987 album, Mother Wit, achieved that certification. The album was notable for the come-back hits “No Pain, No Gain,” which returned her to the top 20 on the R&B chart for the first time in a decade, and “After the Pain”.
In 1990, she had a hit duet with Grayson Hugh on the remake of Champaign’s 1981 hit, “How ‘Bout Us”, and later arranged the harmonies for Gloria Estefan’s “Coming Out of the Dark”, which hit number 1 in 1991. Continuing to release solo material into the 1990s, her 1994 album B-Attitudes featured a remixed duet of Marvin Gaye’s “Distant Lover.” Since then, she has self-released several more recordings while still performing successfully as a live act.
Several of Wright’s works have been sampled over the years by hip hop, rock and R&B musicians. The riff from “Clean Up Woman” has been sampled constantly by acts such as Afrika Bambaattaa, SWV, Mary J. Blige, Sublime, Willie D, and Chance the Rapper. Wright’s first hit, “Girls Can’t Do What Guys Do,” was sampled for Beyoncé’s “Upgrade U.” In 1992, Wright sued the producers behind Color Me Badd’s breakthrough hit, “I Wanna Sex You Up”, after claiming they used the sample of her live version without clearance and without permission, and sued for royalties. Wright won her case, winning 35 percent of royalties for writing the song.
Betty Wright. A true legend. RIP